Change is the only Constant
The pace of change has accelerated over the past two centuries and continues to accelerate as we travel through time into the future. When my father was born the world was still using the telegraph as the main means of communication, aircraft were in their infancy and the motor car still a local phenomenon. If you went on holiday it meant a long journey by road and even longer by sea. Wars were fought with soldiers and fixed bayonets slugging it out over bloody battlefields. Horses were still the main means of locomotion.
Today we live in a world of instant communication – nothing escapes attention except many of the really important things. Communism and Socialism have risen and set leaving very little behind. Travel is easy and fast and boundaries no longer seem to have real significance.
But while our world has changed so much, in a very real sense most of what makes up life on earth has not changed. Mankind is still astonishing in its potential, we still make and enjoy music and art, and mankind is still appalling in its moral and ethical despotism and capacity for evil. More Christians were martyred in the 20th Century than were martyred in all of history.
What has changed and is probable here to stay, is our capacity to communicate instantly and across the globe. Nothing can be kept secret for long and if you commit a misdemeanor anywhere, you cannot be sure that it has not been observed, photographed and recorded. I think the Police in the USA are suddenly appreciating this to their detriment.
On the down side of this growing trend is the increasing failure of direct, person to person communications and exchange. Just watch how your children behave when they are on their own – the smart phones come out, games are initiated or the internet interrogated and perhaps an SMS conversation held with a friend in the house next door.
The internet is a phenomenon that is yet to be fully understood or appreciated. When Christ spoke to his disciples before his ascension he said that he would send someone called the “Holy Spirit” who would have the capacity to communicate and listen to us across the globe, all at the same time. It’s only now that we have the internet that we fully understand how that works. One thing for sure, life can never be the same again and society, business and politics have no choice but to allow for the new situation.
I was in the rural areas of Mashonaland East when I heard news of a hut burning in a village where three young children had been sleeping – the oldest son had died. I decided to attend and express our “chema” to the family and when we got there we found about 300 members of the village present – mainly elderly peasant farmers. I spoke to the family and gave them a small gift to help with feeding everyone and then noticed one elderly man on his cell phone – he was calling his son in New York and asking for some money to help. When I got back to town the next day I found myself on the front page of a newspaper – one of the villagers had taken a picture and sent it to the paper.
But the changes are not only in the communications field – there are vast and rapid changes taking place in the financial sector and in business. In the financial world nearly 100 trillion dollars of savings and international liquidity floats about in what we might call cyber space. Every day billions of dollars must find a home, security is the first priority and if a country or a company or even an individual can create a reputation for being a secure recipient of these funds, the funds automatically flow towards such centers and away from those perceived to be less stable or secure.
So it becomes possible for the Asian Tigers to finance expansion and growth at a pace never seen before in the history of the world. China is building Cities the size of Johannesburg literarily every month. When a country like Greece looses the confidence of the faceless people who control these funds, it is immediately plunged into a financial and fiscal crisis. Global markets see swings that would have caused global mayhem in the past and are now simply regarded as a curiosity. The price of petroleum swinging from $120 a barrel to $60 in a period of weeks changes global power relationships and drives the movement of resources on a scale that shakes the world.
No one, no matter how powerful, can ignore these changes. One consequence is that it is rapidly forcing compliance to norms and rules that resonate with international opinion and consensus. So we find the Chinese government replacing decades of radical Maoism with pragmatic capitalism and making it work so successfully that they are challenging the dominance of the major capitalist countries in the world economic system.
As Mr. Putin is discovering, it’s not the political leadership of the EU and the USA who threaten Russia with penalties arising from his maverick actions in the Ukraine, the markets and the money lenders are the real players in the power game. Hitler could never have got away with his demonic regime if this situation had existed in his era.
Maverick States like Zimbabwe, who flaunt the new consensus in global markets, do so to their detriment. They find themselves sanctioned, not only by a sanctimonious international Community, but by the markets. Desperate for money to feed their delinquency, if they approach the markets to borrow, the markets demand a premium that would cripple most countries. Without money to support trade flows and to finance the rapid changes required in industry and commerce to meet the competition, such countries simply shrivel up and die.
The challenge of leadership in all spheres of activity; is how to manage change. If change is the only constant then this should be a preoccupation for all of us. Any businessperson who is not watching his competition and the changes taking place in his markets, will not last long. Any politician, who does not watch the horizons of his world, runs the risk of a crash landing. Individuals who live their lives as if nothing is ever going to change will be left behind and marginalized.
The key to success is not to be afraid of change but to welcome and embrace it as it takes place. Catching the wave at the right time is always exhilarating and rewarding. But to take advantage of these opportunities you need to also recognise the basic fundamentals that do not change. No matter how fast things move, the fundamentals of faith, confidence and integrity are essential tools for successful individuals and States.
Harare, 22nd June 2015