Ask Steve – Keeping Up With Accelerating Change

Today it seems like the rate of change in the world is increasing exponentially, with monumental developments in business, technology, and the social environment happening daily. How can an individual continue to grow and develop in a world that is moving so quickly?

My personal answer to this question was to center my life around growth. Things are indeed changing very quickly, so I figured the best way to stay on top of it was to turn growth into my actual career. Perhaps I cheated then.

I take in lots of new information every day just in the field of personal development. I read a book or two every week. I read tons of articles. I talk to people in the field. I have plenty of “eyes” out there who email me anything that might be significant. Authors and publishers send me their latest books to review. But there’s still no way I can keep up with all of it. New information is being created at a far faster rate than I can absorb it.

I remember hearing a statistic that the amount of knowledge in any given field doubles every seven years. So you have to double your knowledge every seven years just to stay even. And this statistic was pre-Internet, so you can imagine what it must be like today.

At first this may seem discouraging, but it’s actually a really good thing. You just need to look at it from the right perspective. You see… no one is able to keep up with this rate of change. Everybody’s confused! And in that sea of confusion, new opportunities are popping up like crazy. When a company like Microsoft nearly misses the Internet revolution, you know something’s up. This explosion of information opens enormous gaps, making it possible for someone who sees these gaps to jump in and get a nice big piece of the pie while everyone else is scratching their heads.

Some examples: A UK college student uses a simple idea and the most basic web technology to earn $1,000,000 in just a few months. Another guy begins with One Red Paperclip and 14 trades later, he turns it into a house.

One of these cool little gaps allowed me to build this web site into one of the most popular personal development sites online. In less than two years and with no marketing budget, my traffic zoomed past that of the world’s top personal development authors, speakers, and coaches.

What about social changes? In much the same way, rapid change first creates confusion. What do I make of all these people who email me to let me know how reading my articles has affected them? In nearly all cases, we’ve never met in person or talked on the phone. I know virtually nothing about them. But they potentially know a lot about me because of my blogging activities. Are they friends? Acquaintances? Fans? Visitors? Usually I fall back on the safe term “readers,” but that doesn’t convey the emotional connection that often develops between the blogger and blog readers. And what about people who meet on message boards and develop strictly online relationships? What do we call those?

Social change creates social opportunity as well. Blogging is a pretty amazing social outlet when you think about it. Here I am typing this in my home office while listening to some relaxing music and sipping a cup of herbal tea. But technically I’m sharing ideas with thousands of people in over 150 different countries. As soon as I click “Publish,” all those people will be able to read what I wrote. And it’s essentially free.

This is an amazing opportunity, but it can also be downright confusing sometimes. In about 20 minutes, I’ll be leaving to attend a local humor workshop put on by a fellow Toastmaster. There will probably be about 40-60 people in attendance, and I should know most of them. I’ll probably be greeted by friends when I enter, and I’ll chat with them face-to-face. I expect there will be lots of laughs. For me this is a very normal social situation. It makes sense to me. And yet by sitting here typing at my computer alone, I’m actually communicating with many, many more people than I’ll ever see tonight. The difference is several orders of magnitude. I gave a workshop to this same audience in January, and I remember thinking that the physical audience in front of me was only an infinitesimal fraction of my online audience. Yet that physical audience seems so much more real to me. My brain doesn’t know what to make of this.

Consequently, my preference is to simply accept the confusion and the opportunity as two sides of the same whole. They’re a package deal. It’s your choice which side of the coin you want to focus on. You can focus on the confusion side and become paranoid. Or you can focus on the opportunity side and take action. Really this is nothing more than the classic decision between focusing on what you can’t control vs. on what you can control. The former disempowers you. The latter empowers you. Choose wisely.

This entry is part of the “Ask Steve” series. See the original Ask Steve post for details, or view the Archives (July 2006) to peruse the entire series.