In 1977, Citibank invested hundreds of millions in ATM technology across New York City. Yet no one used them until the blizzard of 1978 when multiple feet of snow shut down the city.(1) Prior to this, people would cash their checks at the supermarket. But when the supermarkets ran out of cash, only then did people find their way to ATMs. Today, ATMs are widely used to withdraw money around the world; but they had to break through the norm to do it.
As I wrote about in a previous article; the hardwired brain runs automatically. This is what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman describes as two separate systems of mental processing in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. System One is fast, unconscious, effortless, and automatic. System One makes quick decisions, which are often mental shortcuts we’ve created through evolution, or thinking we’ve been in the situation before. System Two, however, is slow, deliberate, conscious, effortful, and controlled.(2)
Unfortunately, most companies, organizations, and social institutions act as a brain in System One. It gets used to doing something one way and makes it as efficient as possible. It doesn’t want to change, adapt, or innovate. In fact, it fights change just like the System One brain would, by killing new ideas and protecting the status quo. The bureaucracy has one way to do something, even if common sense would identify that it is not working. A complex system will fight change at all costs.
This is why change is so difficult to achieve. New ideas are killed in the boardroom, executive teams remain non-diverse, and peaceful protestors get tear gassed. The only time change happens rapidly is when the rubber band has been pulled so far and the world snaps back to head in another direction after changing too fast. We’ve seen this in American presidential candidates over the last couple decades, with extreme change and instability from one President to the next. This is the same reason many people have to have a heart attack to change their diet; the body is crying for changes to be made.
If companies, organizations, and social institutions were truly System Two — deliberate, self-aware, and logical — then new ideas, diversity, and even protestors would be embraced. We would seek diversity, embrace others with different opinions, and continuously learn, adapting to new information. We would seek out learning opportunities from other companies, in other industries, and avoid the same pitfalls. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the VUCA world, those who are not conscious, mindful, or purposeful will be disrupted. The world demands people do the right thing, yet the right thing may be just what the majority views is the right thing. With digitization comes transparency as everything is video-taped, recorded, emailed, and shared in some way or another. Doing the right thing when no one is looking is very important to future leadership, or the rubber band will snap leaders in a new direction. The speed of the world is putting more pressure and stress on companies, organizations, and social institutions than ever before as we all shift from the linear growth to the exponential curve.
(1) History.com Editors “Automated Teller Machines” A&E Television Networks, April 20, 2010, https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/auto- mated-teller-machines
(2) Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: New York, 2011)