Exponential rate of change

Author: Neville Webb

The one thing we can be certain about is that change is going to happen: whether it’s small or large, change is a constant state that pervades all.

This may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, like ‘globalisation’ or ‘environmentalism’, but history shows that change has always been a significant influence on human endeavour. Those with responsibility for outcomes, resources or progression, have had to take account of or plan for their enterprise operating in the midst of external pressures to change. It may not seem as though it was a significant a factor then or had the impact we think we have today, but change always has been an ever present influence.


Illustration showing:

  • The rate of change over time (δ = exponential curve – Change on ‘Y’ axis & Time on ‘X’ axis)
  • History = Programmed Knowledge ‘P’ – from a point on the curve, project a horizontal line back towards the Y axis: this is historical data
  • T = Tangential direction if we rely solely on P to make decisions and solve problems
  • Questioning Insight ‘Q’ – asking simple, naive, open questions and listening to, and acting on the answers

For managers this begs the question: ‘If change is so dynamic, how do I plan or control in an environment where nothing stays the same?’

What is needed, more than ever, is the opportunity and capability for effective learning. Managing within an ever-increasing rate of change is difficult if the incumbent only uses historical data to inform their decision-making processes – it’s a bit like trying to drive a Ferrari at top speed with the bonnet up using only the rearview mirror. You’re going to crash – soon.

The illustration above shows how the best planning endeavours of the manager can only really forecast along a tangential line given the historical data available at the time. This can of course be instigated many times in quick succession, but it never really reflects exactly what is happening out there, or more importantly, how the data should be interrogated and applied as there is always some time lag in the system. A far better, and some would argue, a simpler strategy, would be to employ a management culture that centres around asking questions (as opposed to a ‘Command & Control’ culture) whereby the protagonist asks simple, naive but pertinent open questions of the actors and data within the arena affected by the changing situation and, more importantly, listens to and acts on the responses.

Historical data
Historical Data
Live group generated info
Live group generated information
Scenario thinking
Scenario thinking

There are many so called management tools available out there for us to use – find one that allows a historical data perspective coupled with the ability to capture live group generated information and scenario thinking. The key to a successful management tool is how much flexibility there is to [accommodate your team’s views/perspectives] built on your ability and willingness to ask open, honest, non-threatening questions.

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