Discover more from The Snap Forward
Discontinuity is the Job
How climate change and the planetary crisis are changing what works.
This is When **it Gets Real, part two.
“When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its latest assessment report, concluding that the largest peer-reviewed scientific process in history shows that humanity is in the midst of the greatest planetary crisis we have faced since we came down from the trees.
If you’re wondering what this is going to do to your life, here’s one place to start—with what it’s going to do to your job.
A lot of people ask me for career advice. This is a bit strange, since I’ve never really had anything that could be described as a recognizable career, having spent the last three decades working as my own boss, and moving from project to project in a mostly intuitive manner. It’s worked pretty well for me, but while I’m good at a lot of things, I sure wouldn’t claim the craft of building a career as one them.
Nonetheless, people ask. Often, though, I find that what folks really want—even if they’re not sure how to ask for it—is not so much career advice as professional foresight.
After 30 years doing this work, foresight is a skill I do possess, but even there, I find simple, concrete suggestions uncomfortable. I just don’t trust that any specific recommendations I offer can work in the ways we thought they did in previous decades. (“I want to say one word to you, just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.”)
And, if we’re being honest, no one else should have that confidence either. That’s because we’re in the midst of an all-encompassing discontinuity, and no one knows anything for sure about what’s coming. Predictability is extinct.
Unfortunately, the need for planning is still snorting and kicking. You and I and everyone we know still need to try to make a living, care for our families, build some security and enjoy a good life, even in the midst of the collapse of continuity. Even with the loss of predictability, we still have to go to work in the morning. We still have to plan ahead as best we can.
No one can offer us maps of the wilds ahead. We have to learn how to scout the way ourselves. We have to hone our acumen for times of upheaval, chaos and weirdness.
Here are a dozen ideas I’ve found useful in my own efforts at self-education.
THE PLANETARY CRISIS IS NOT AN ISSUE, BUT A CHANGE IN ERA
When we smashed an unsustainable economy into an immovable planetary reality, we broke our continuity with the past.
The material fundamentals of the systems that surround us are in cataclysmic conflict with the biological fundamentals of our planet (and the practical realities of societal needs). The planetary crisis is not an issue, or set of issues, but a change in era, one that’s already happened.
As I wrote at the start of this series:
“To unlock insight into the world we’re living in, it helps to remember that we’re in a new era, surrounded by systems designed and built in the old.”
To be alive right now is to find ourselves flattened against the fact that the entire human world—our cities and infrastructure, our economy and education system, our farms and factories, our laws and politics—was built for a different planet.
Our understandings of how things work—the assumptions we’ve taken for granted, the experiences we’ve acquired, the skills we’ve learned—no longer offer good guidance for the chaos unfolding around us. Discontinuity surrounds us. While this is certainly true for physical systems, it’s actually even more true for our societies as a whole. Nothing is as it was.
We must learn to remake our world, even as our planet convulses with change. Thinking about this problem is basically what I do for a living. I'm increasingly convinced that almost no one has yet totally engaged this reality. Perhaps literally no one.
Yet, each of us faces our own version of this discontinuity. It is redefining our lives, wherever we live. It is making us ask, “Are we safe?” and, “What future is coming?” It is rewriting the rules for those of us with prosperity, but it is breaking the world for those without. It is pushing the desperate and marginal past desperation; it is throwing into upheaval communities that were formerly thriving; it is increasingly hammering the hopes of many who were born into comparative comfort and safety, and assumed the future would be more of the same.
But while the planetary crisis is everyone’s business, making decisions about how to respond is not everyone’s job.
THE PLANETARY CRISIS TAKES PLACE IN INSTITUTIONS
As I’ve written about before, the planetary crisis is, at its core, a professional crisis. It is a crisis in how our most important institutions are led, advised and managed. The big decisions—the ones that make our world more (or less) sustainable, that prepare us for the coming disasters (or leave us brittle and vulnerable), that ready our institutions and communities for unprecedented transformations (or that harden institutions into resistance to change)—are almost all made by people whose job it is to make them.
There is enormous resistance to recognizing the institutional core of this crisis. That resistance, I think, stems from hostility to two realities that frankly deserve our hostility.
The first is that, for at least three decades, many millions of people have been told we’re fighting for an orderly transition away from climate and ecological peril. We’ve been told that the way out of this crisis is to bring everyone together to the bargaining table, and with a mixture of national policies, diplomatic agreements and collective action, set ourselves on a pathway where climate and sustainability goals could be met without unnecessary cost or disruptions. The core idea of orderliness is gradual future change, continuous with present expectations, executed through mutually-agreeable, optimized and predictable actions.
As I wrote before:
“It is no longer possible to achieve that orderly transition, to combine action at the scale and speed we need with a smooth transition and a minimum of disruption. We have already failed to create the future most advocacy still seeks to bring on.
“Policy matters. Regulations matter. International agreements matter. Plans and procurement and budgets matter. We cannot build a better future without leveraging the power of governments—and we cannot leverage that power without exerting even greater democratic pressure through advocacy.
"We are not now capable of designing a future that works in continuity with our existing systems and practices while producing emissions reductions and sustainability gains fast enough to avoid truly dire ecological harm. This is an option that no longer exists."
Indeed, “every approach that promises both bold action and the continuation of current practices and systems leads us inexorably into magical thinking.”
The second is that we’re surrounded by networks of institutions whose public credibility and moral integrity are in tatters, but whose power remains durable. In a better world, many of those institutions and the people running them would be swept aside in shame.
In this world, though—in this world where some of the most important choices ever made by human beings must be made in just the next decade or two—those institutions (or their replacements) are what we have to work with. The meaningful fight is not against institutions, but within and between them.
Every single one of us should have a real role to play in the fights ahead. And it would be nice if it were true that if we just mobilized enough people, we could not only meet this crisis, but use it to remake society as a whole, and find ourselves living in an entirely different political landscape. I’d like to believe that this is true, myself—but it’s not. It’s true that levers do exist for citizens, consumers and community members to put some pressure on specific decision-makers within these institutions. In the immediate term, though—which is the timeframe that matters most—there will still be institutions and decision-makers.
Who makes what decision matters, though. We live, right now, with professional networks of expert decision-makers who are deeply committed—for reasons we’ll get back to—to making the same kinds of decisions they’ve been rewarded for making before. They are the owners, investors, managers, bankers, engineers, lawyers, consultants, elected officials, bureaucrats, union bosses, advocacy leaders, philanthropists, journalists and academics who are expert at building and running the systems that surround us today. The decisions they’ve been making have brought humanity to the brink of ruin.
We desperately need better decision-makers—or at least decision-makers with better sets of incentives and interests. Because of the magnitude of this discontinuity, the power to make these system-defining decisions is up for grabs, even if the institutional nature of the crisis looks unlikely to change in the immediate future. Revolution may be a long, long way off, but upheaval is already on its way.
A new era demands new systems—and in practical terms, new systems demand new leaders. And there are a lot of professionals who want to be a part of changing the direction our societies are taking. All around the world, there are talented people driven by a passionate need to tackle the planetary crisis, who possess the skills and ambition to be part of changing big systems, and who are looking for their place to take a stand—their place to make a difference; their place to matter.
For good folks’ work to matter, though, they must succeed. Intentions don’t count for much, right now. In fact, it’s possible that nobody’s success or failure has ever mattered more.
SUCCESS IS A BYPRODUCT OF ACCELERATION
When it comes to the planetary crisis, speed is everything. The degree to which those attempting to build new systems in new ways succeed will likely decide how fast society recognizes the realities of this discontinuous new era. That in turn will govern how quickly we see the wide uptake of needed solutions to our ecological and economic challenges.
But to push things forward, faster—to take on the gnarly challenges, and win—we need, ourselves, to accelerate.
I mean that in two ways.
The first is that we need to learn what is true now, faster. We are coming into a moment of disruptive solutions, of disaggregated systems, of chaotic impacts, of technological upspirals, of deep conflicts over the tempo of change, and of unprecedented realignments and new alliances in our politics, economy and society. We have to learn how to move through all that, and quickly.
The second is that we need to speed up our cycles of learning. That is, we must understand that not only are we in a discontinuity, but we’re unlikely to emerge from that discontinuity into a stable state. There is no new normal coming. We are going to experience a sort of standing wave of discontinuity, with no insight ever becoming certain, no expertise ever being quite definitive, no strategy ever being completely reliable. We’re going to have to keep relearning, over and over again. That is simply one of the costs of having destabilized the planet.
This is hard work. But if we can engage in professional acceleration, the future opens up in front of us.
DISCONTINUITY IS THE JOB
Being ready when the big shifts come—and they soon will—involves being able to work successfully in unprecedented situations.
In a world bursting with failed continuities, working with discontinuity is the job. That is, our main task is honing our skills and insight for the building of new systems, faster than we’re used to thinking of as possible. The biggest problem in learning to do that is that the first step is the longest one: embracing the idea that things will change at scales and speeds that render a vast swathe of previous experience/expertise outdated, without a period of transition.
In the real world, smart strategies are strategies for building new systems during economic upheavals, amidst ecological chaos, in ways that disrupt older broken systems—and do it in the face of determined opposition.
Opposition can be taken as a given because beyond basic skills, all expertise exists within contexts. The fundamental formulae of engineering are universal, but different sets of expertise are involved in designing and building an oil refinery than a wind turbine—and the business, political and cultural contexts of each differ in myriad ways. The context for almost all current expertise is that previous era, and the systems we built then. That means almost all expertise is now outdated, in part or in whole, and the gap between the old context and the new—between the aging expertise we still treat as astute and the new approaches we need—grows wider every day.
We’ll come back to the the question of opposition, but let’s first talk about the expertise gap and why it’s growing.
STEEPENING CURVES DEFINE THE SPEED OF NEEDED CHANGE
It would be great if we lived in a time whose problems could be solved slowly, thoughtfully and gently. We do not.
The planetary crisis writhes with steepening problems—problems that not only get worse as we fail to solve them, but get worse at an increasing rate.
The everyday operation of the old systems around us worsens the planetary crisis every day; because we’re dealing with natural systems that have real limits, as we approach those limits, the harm worsens. Each new increment of damage sets in motion greater threats than the last. Doing what we’ve “always” done becomes less and less defensible:
The curve we’ve been forced onto bends so steeply, that the pace of victory is part of victory itself. Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. We cannot afford to pursue past strategies, aimed at limited gains towards distant goals. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat. It guarantees defeat.
As problems steepen, they demand faster responses. The pace of progress we need, now, to tackle the massive and very steep problems around us has already become inescapably disruptive.
Then, too, the longer we wait to tackle those problems, the greater the share of ecological and climate damage that becomes irreversible, at least in human timescales.
Delay steepens steepening problems, and deepens their long-term consequences. The status quo is a doomsday machine. Costs are mounting, and someone has to pay them. The 2020s are going to be one long series of overdue notices.
ACUMEN COMES FROM CENTERING WHAT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED
When we think about how much change lies ahead, it’s easy to underestimate. In fact, we do it all the time in our public debate. We constantly fail to take the planetary crisis seriously enough.
Take, for instance, climate change. The conventional wisdom—intelligently summarized in this piece by Dave Roberts—is that climate change is an emissions problem, and emissions are an energy problem. Clean energy, therefore, is the solution.
This is true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go that far. Look, we want clean energy. We want all the solar and wind and geothermal energy we can get, as fast we can slap that shit up. Yet, a world that ran only on clean energy but was otherwise unchanged would still be a world ripping apart at the ecological seams.
Leave aside that the best way to get energy emissions down is unquestionably not just building clean energy, but a whole mix of building clean energy, storage, design changes, energy efficiency measures, cultural shifts and financial incentives.
Leave aside that how we grow our food and fiber, steward forests and farms, manage wetlands and grasslands and oceans, is a huge and vital part of the emissions equation. Leave aside, even, that climate change is just one large driver of a vast, interconnected set of ecological problems, almost all of which are unraveling fast.
Leave all that aside, and we still have the fact that responding to the planetary crisis we’ve already set in motion—ruggedizing human systems, rebuilding after disasters, restoring natural systems, managing unprecedented pressures on social and political systems—is an even bigger job now than “merely” staving off further planetary catastrophe.
On top of that, we still tend to act as if old things and systems, slightly improved, will do the job. They won’t. To see this crisis truly reveals that we are about to be surrounded by masses of new components, systems, practices, policies, plans, social mores, political ideas and so on. The speed with which we are being forced to respond to discontinuity means we can no longer do the old things.
How fast we do things changes how they work in the world. The same undertakings, executed at different speeds, produce different outcomes. Now every system is subject to greater amounts of change, in a shorter period of time, than ever before. Indeed, the speed with which we need to build new systems makes those systems less and less like the old systems we’re used to.
As I wrote in We’re Not Yet Ready for What’s Already Happened:
"[O]ur ideas about the pace of change—how fast we can create change, the costs and benefits of more rapid action, the politics of speed and delay—are the most out-of-date part of our climate / sustainability debate. Our sense of tempo is broken..."
One of the consequences of the build up of torque in our society is that as change comes, it will hurtle forward faster than we’re used to imagining. The tempo of change is about to be unprecedented—so too will the outcomes be. The faster it gets, the more permanently disruptive its effects become.
Indeed, the sheer scale of the hunger for working solutions—the mutli-trillion-dollar surge in demand for new forms of prosperity, security and safety that will work in an age of unprecedented upheavals—means that the forms these new things take will themselves be new, innovative, unexpected.
A giant building boom is what successful planetary action looks like—and as it unfolds, it will spread farther and farther beyond our conventional ideas of sustainability. The scale of the demand for the new means those new things will not confine themselves to our expectations of their natures—to being “green” versions of familiar systems—and are in fact not new things being done in old ways, but new things that themselves create new ways of doing things, in a whiplash loop. Like black holes warping space around them, vast scales of unmet demand warp the economics and politics of innovation. (I have a lot more to say about all this in the book.)
That discontinuity—of the need for new things done in new ways, at previously unseen speeds and at unprecedented scales—that is the world for which we should be honing our thinking. Because that’s the world we live in now.
THE POLITICS OF TEMPO LIMIT THE SPEED OF CHANGE
Most informed people, at this point, get what Paul Hawken meant when he said, “We have an economy that steals the future, sells it in the present, and calls it GDP.”
Fewer of us grasp that this theft is no longer limited to the future. Unmet threats undermine people’s lives, now. Unacknowledged risks erode their security, now. Damage, destruction, and the loss of natural bounty cost us and far, far more than we think—at this point, every barrel of oil we burn and every ancient tree we fell costs society more than enriches us. The planetary crisis is an ecological tragedy, yes, but it is also a massive looting spree. Predatory delay is an ecological smash and grab.
What those delaying change don’t want you to see is that the central political and economic competitions of this era are defined by their relationship to the speed of change. Every material undertaking—every enterprise that does things to physical stuff—cannot choose but to be either Slow or Fast; dependent on delay, or advantaged by acceleration. Those invested in those systems and organizations and practices either benefit from delaying recognition of the change in era, or they benefit from speeding up engagement with the present. That’s because no material action is disconnected from the planetary crisis, almost all are currently unsustainable, brittle, or both, and thus every material action is under direct pressure; conversely, every business model or institutional mandate centered on a material system is some other model or mandate’s opportunity for Fast growth.
Because we’ve waited so long to act, Slow approaches can generally not be made to work in the new world we need to build. What is Slow is hard to make Fast. (See: Carbon and Brittleness Bubbles). Slow interests can only retain value by denying discontinuity and insisting that nothing much is likely to change.
An inevitable product of predatory delay in a time of steepening problems is, therefore, that as the pace of change required speeds up, the conflicts between the needs of Fast and Slow parties become more zero sum, and their differences become irreconcilable. The worse the crisis gets, the less common ground there is between those who want to act quickly and those who don’t. Paradoxically, the longer this postponement—what I call The Interval of Predatory Delay—lasts, the more slow things lose their futures. The new is ready to eat the old.
Two parties who agree on action in principle but disagree on pace are—in the real world—in direct conflict about the outcomes they seek, whether that conflict is openly acknowledged or not. People can have both an ethical/political commitment to the principle that we must act, and self-interest in severely limiting the pace of that action in the near term. Indeed, this is totally common.
A faster tempo of change benefits the overwhelming majority of us, but not everyone. As we move deeper into the crisis, more and more existing communities, institutions and governments will recognize that their interests are, in fact, Fast.
The vast majority of new entrants into these fields will also be Fast (because there is increasingly less opportunity and more risk in Slow systems, so if you’re starting from scratch, it would be silly to try to compete in a Slow space).
Finally, few undertakings that are not fundamentally material are inherently Slow, and all that is not Slow tilts more and more towards Fast; and discontinuity transforms the strategic landscape for everything, not just material enterprises. Indeed, the arrival of new systems creates new strains on and opens new opportunities to organizations that haven’t traditionally seen planetary changes as very important to their core concerns.
Here’s something you probably don’t hear enough: Action at speeds and scales we find hard to fully grasp right now is inevitable, and will likely arrive far sooner than our public debate would lead you to think, and in great force, like a glacial flood roaring down a mountain valley.
TORQUE IS INCREASING; DELAY MAKES IT STRONGER
We are deluded by the sad state of our political sphere into believing that action is uncertain: We might act; we might not. This is simply untrue. Action is not a matter of whether, but when.
In fact, this supposed uncertainty of action is a major predatory delay propaganda point. It’s spin. It is continuity propaganda.
The truth is that climate/sustainability action is not a long trudge up a steep hill. The costs of delay and the opportunities for disruption are pure torque on our society. It is a powerful reality wound up like an overtaxed spring, and about to break free and rip through all in front of it. It is being held back by Slow interests that are too weak to hold it much longer.
The Interval of Predatory Delay cannot last. It cannot last because with every passing day, the torque building up in our systems and society grows stronger. Slow interests may have delayed the beginning of serious action; they may have prevented people from understanding what’s going on for a while longer—nothing they do can pause the build-up of torque and tension. Their successes in slowing the pace of change this far don’t diminish the amount of change that’s coming: quite the opposite. The longer it takes for the planetary crisis to become the central concern of our society, the faster current outdated systems will lose their value when the change does come.
The pandemic has given us all a taste of what large changes for which we were unprepared can feel like, but the planetary crisis is about to deliver a feast of them to our doorsteps.
Sooner, rather than later—and far sooner than most of us are used to imagining—we’re going to live through a set of apparently sudden tectonic lurches in how our nations, institutions and communities work, in their fundamental material structures. That upheaval may take a year to arrive, it may take two decades—but it’s coming. And while it’s true that the longer it takes, the worse the prospects for billions of people become, it’s also true that the longer it takes, the more powerfully it will shake the systems around us. When that tension slips its restraints, empires will fall.
The things that cannot compete in the discontinuity will inevitably be destroyed; their useful components will be absorbed into new systems; the rest will become stranded assets, the sites of unofficial abandonment and the ruins of the unsustainable (in Bruce Sterling’s phrase); everything that needs to be defended by denying what has already happened is wreckage that only appears operational when seen through the haze of denial.
The critical moment will be when enough institutional power tips over to Fast to make most leaders and owners and professionals see that their own interests are best served by speed. Not the creation of a more perfect society, but the revolutionary recognition of existing reality, of the world around us: The Snap Forward.
That is not the world for which many older and more established leaders, experts, authorities and pundits were trained. Indeed, in my experience, it is not a world to which many of them are prepared to adapt.
THE EXPERTISE BUBBLE
The desire to understand discontinuity and prepare to play a successful role in disruptive change has been met with major, prepared opposition. New acumen is a threat, and treated as such.
It is a threat to established professionals because the more we focus on discontinuity, the more clearly we can see the expertise gap that runs through our society. This is most obvious when the expertise in question revolves around unsustainable and brittle systems.
Expertise is valuable. Unless we expect almost nothing to change, though, current expertise (which is to say, outdated expertise; unsustainable expertise, brittle expertise) is overvalued. The degree to which we expect things to change in accelerating ways is the degree to which that expertise is subject to a rapid repricing.
A widening expertise gap plus major financial investments in expertise that falls on the outdated side of that gap means more and more formerly valuable intellectual property, expert insight and reputation for acumen is headed for a repricing. There is a bubble of unsustainable expertise, in exactly the same way we see precarious overvaluations of oil pipelines or beachfront condos. As I wrote before,
"Real climate action and ruggedization are disruptive. In many fields, the new doesn’t adapt the old to the climate emergency, it replaces it... Millions of people have expertise grounded entirely in the systems being replaced."
Experienced decision-makers and advisors can, of course, update their worldviews and reskill themselves for the decades ahead. But this is hard to do, both practically and psychologically… and there is generally not enough support for taking the time to do it, in Slow institutions. It is far easier to practice professional predatory delay, and assert the future’s continuity with the past.
Those currently benefiting the most from unsustainable systems thus find a reason as big as their salaries or ownership stakes to deny or downplay pressures building up to change those systems. The cost of change even more strongly incentivizes those who find themselves with outdated, sunk-cost expertise to put their time and energy into defending their authority by policing the boundaries of professional practice—drawing a line beyond which solutions and strategies that move too fast or too distruptively are defined as “unrealistic.”
The boundary is not the edge of the possible, beyond which all is murky, it’s a smokescreen meant to obscure the astonishing possibilities already coming to view once we center the planetary crisis.
That it is bullshit doesn’t mean the costs of transgressing that boundary cannot be very real. We're seeing a last hurrah of outdated expertise, a sort of intellectual predatory delay, where the delay is focused on preventing the debate itself from moving forward, through concerted efforts to control the avenues of debate to exclude challenging new thinking. This is a major problem. The opposition to accelerating expertise is serious and—in some cases I know—has been career-ending for innovators.
Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to see unsustainable expertise defending itself. It’s harder to see the ways in which expertise in sustainability and adaption can be just as dangerously obsolete.
Sometimes the boundary is enforced most aggressively by those whose job it is, supposedly, to change the world.
TRIANGULATION PROTECTS SLOW STRATEGIES
Climate and sustainability professionals should be at the very epicenter of innovation and strategic learning within institutions, businesses and communities. They rarely are. That’s because in most settings, climate and sustainability professionals are not getting paid to change important things, they’re getting paid to protect important things from change.
Climate/sustainability expertise has become a profession, like any other. Its primary offering is least-cost plans for incremental-but-socially-credible action. Generally those plans defend organizations from criticism and pressure by making serious-sounding commitments to big-but-distant goals (like, “Net Zero by 2050”), paired with incremental and inexpensive steps in the near term. The two are then “triangulated” with arguments that small steps today are “in line” with a future of bold action. The key deliverable is the claim that the triangulator’s employer is “doing enough.”
The definition of “doing enough” becomes the critical battleground with advocates and regulators who want more action. With triangulation, we see the deployment of bolt-on solutions purpose-machined to preserve the value of slow approaches, assets, and expertise. We see an emphasis on things like charitable gifts, ESG ratings, operational climate emissions (and carbon offsets), business-case sustainability commitments (small steps that pay their way) and employee behavior (“Remember, everyone, recycle your coffee cups and don’t forget to show up for tree-planting day!”), and messaging (from outright greenwashing to empty declarations of support for climate justice).
The promise of triangulation—the optics of serious commitment, but an action agenda that doesn’t upset existing management priorities and revenue centers—has proven attractive to those at the top, for understandable reasons: If you’re an executive without any particular insight into the crisis yourself, hiring triangulatory experts allows you to cover your butt without any obvious downside. It’s a plug and play solution, allowing you to keep focused on the business models that have been earning well so far. It limits exposure to the gulf between slow approaches and fast realities. And it works perfectly fine, as long as your decision-making horizon is very close, measured in quarterly reports, and uninterrupted by any sudden changes.
The problem, of course, is that in the midst of discontinuity, short horizons are hard to tell apart from strategic fog, and any quarter could be the one when sudden change rings the bell. Optics don’t mean much when what was once an institution’s core offering becomes someone else’s disruptive opportunity. Unless a given institution is irretrievably slow, “doing enough” is not in its long-term interest.
The planetary crisis is not an issue, but an era; discontinuity is reality; disruptive sustainability and ruggedization are realism; the conflicts over the tempo of change are the core political and social issues of our time; our sense of the limits of the possible is outdated, and the strongest incentives in the world are cranking up the torque that will be released when predatory delay fails.
In the face of all that, triangulation makes most institutions worse at strategy. It makes professional expertise gained within its programs pre-outdated. It hamstrings the ability to spot opportunity and the skills needed to move disruptively to seize it.
Triangulation makes a professional more secure in their job for now, but less prepared for the future; triangulated strategies protect organizations from pressure to act now, but they weaken the organization’s capacities to change. Everything worth talking about is outside the boundary of the currently acceptable debate in most professional circles, because every triangulated position and expertise bubble creates the boundary it needs to stay safe. If you are relying on advice being given within triangulated boundaries to try to figure out what’s going on, you’re outsourcing your strategic acumen to people who’s core skill is avoiding the question.
Discontinuity is the central context for all smart decision-making now. The expertise born of the triangulation of slow, delaying systems and bold, distant goals is not able to produce acumen for seizing the opportunities created amidst upheaval. They are completely different jobs.
THIS IS A DANGEROUS MOMENT
It is pretty hard to learn how to do the real work, right now.
Unfortunately, many professionals who think they’re preparing themselves for emerging realities by going to trainings and degree programs are only learning about old systems and outdated bolt-on ideas and solutions.
This leads to a weird paradox, which is that being newly trained into the field doesn’t mean you have the latest skills or tools for understanding. A fresh degree is no guarantee at all of being equipped with current acumen.
If you’re trying to figure all this out, your need is urgent. Not only is a day of delay a day you’re no closer to success, but also quickening the increase in demand for Fast expertise is itself an important climate action. Unless you start rich and powerful, you need to scrap for decision-making power, and better decision-makers winning their fights is key to humanity’s prospects.
One thing worth knowing is that Slow expertise and triangulated strategy are as subject to disaggregation as coal is from electricity supply. Opportunities of a rare scale abound, but you have to survive your learning process long enough to succeed. In this liminal moment, this twilight between predatory delay and explosive change, moving fast and steering clear of opponents’ retaliation are a tough balancing act, but a necessary one.
It is about to be obvious that there is a massive unmet need for professionals who can craft strategies for discontinuous times—strategies that leap the expertise gap and turn the kinds of rapid and disruptive changes we need into incredible chances to matter. Be ready when it gets obvious. Teach yourself with ferocity, treat yourself with kindness, take the planetary crisis as seriously as it demands.
If we want to succeed in these times ahead, we need to create opportunities for self-education.
My purpose, with this newsletter and podcast, the forthcoming book and the consulting work I do, is to explore the kinds of ideas and insights that help us navigate discontinuity in a world both full of possibility and wracked by crisis.
If you’ve read this far, my work might speak to you.
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