Read: “Resilience and the incredible power of slow change”

17 Aug 2010

Often times I feel like I’m not on top of breaking news, that when there are crises—say, the ongoing floods in Pakistan, where I’m living now—I don’t think immediately about how I could try to write about it (which is, I think, the most powerful way I could help).

But I felt vindicated in my slowness today, when I read Seth Godin’s blog post “Resilience and the incredible power of slow change.”

He talks about how we always get caught up in crises and emergencies and breaking news: “it’s the emergencies we pay attention to.”

That’s important if we, say, want to get aid to the flood victims. But if we’re trying to understand the causes of the floods, or what we could to do avoid or cope better with future calamities, then we need a longer view. As Godin points out, the same goes for understanding the wrenching changes in the media industry or the music business.

As Godin puts it: “Don’t worry about what happened yesterday (or five minutes ago). Focus on what happened ten years ago and think about what you can do that will make a huge impact in six months.”

That’s because it’s slow change, rather than fast shocks, that’s often driving things—whether you’re talking about floods or about the media industry.

Godin is a little too glib, it seems, about resilience of our current systems. “Most existing systems (organizations, cities, careers, governments) are resilient to external shocks. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t still be here.”

Well, that’s true in a way. But they might not be around much longer unless they’re able to adapt to changing times. We’re now entering “the second half of the age of oil,” as ecologist Charles Hall puts it. We may even see the end of economic growth in the not-too-distant future. These are slow changes that, unless we read our history and take a long view, we’re going to misunderstand what’s driving things.

Take climate change. It is already bringing stronger storms, and we could get caught up in scrambling to recover from one hurricane, flood, or drought after another. Or we could take a long view, and do something about the underlying problem.


books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Mason's favorite books »