Communicating in a Rapidly Changing World

The challenge faced by everyone is the ever increasing rate of change, driven by new knowledge, new ideas, new management fads and of course new technologies.

As individuals and organisations we need to continually accelerate our rate of learning, and according to Eddie Obeng in his TED presentation Smart failure for a fast-changing world  the world is now changing at a rate faster than we can assimilate the new information, making errors and mistakes inevitable.

In the old world, a competent person could keep up with ‘all’ of the relevant changes in their area of expertise and be expected to get the ‘right answers’ – in the new world we simply cannot. What was ‘right’ based on the old paradigms is unlikely to be the best answer now or in the future and there’s no way of knowing if your innovative solution to a problem is right or wrong until later. Timely decisions based on assumptions and partial information are essential (see more on decision making). And adaptation and rapid learning from your mistakes is the new normal.

Obviously this is helped by access to useful information. The challenge is sorting ‘useful’ information from the ever expanding ‘noise’ in every aspect of life, within the ever shortening timeframes needed for effective decisions.

One of the clearest depictions of this problem is the ever increasing number of business fads sweeping management:

Rate of change

This ‘fad-o-gram’ is from ‘The Ebbs, Flows and Residual Impact of Business Fads 1950 – 1995’ by R. Pascale. The chart was developed from a statistical analysis of the indexes of the influence of business ideas, calculated by Richard Pascale, using an importance-weighted citation count, admittedly with a significant subjective component.

Looking at an updated version of the chart from 2000 in more detail is interesting:


The first surprise is the number of ‘defunct’ management theories that are still included in the PMP course requirements such as ‘decision trees’, ‘theory x – theory y’, ‘brainstorming’ and ‘management by objectives’. I have a feeling this is more likely to be a factor of the interest in the concept by author’s looking for a new idea to have their academic papers published, or sell their books, than the actual usefulness of the concepts but equally there are literally dozens of fads and fashions that have arrived, been championed as the solution to all known problems and then died.

The second surprise is the omission of ‘project management’ including ‘program management’ and ‘project portfolio management’. Presumably projects were seen by Pascale as planning processes rather then management theory.

From the perspective of management theories and fads, the most telling insight can be ascribed to Peter Drucker who, in 1993 said ‘The most probable assumption is that no currently working ‘business theory’ will be valid ten years hence — at least not without major modifications’.

So where does this leave us as working managers trying to make good decisions in a rapidly changing world? I would suggest decisions based on common sense and pragmatism, founded on experience, are likely to be far more effective than leaping onto the latest management fad both at the project level and higher management levels. Not worrying too much about the latest fad also helps reduce the learning load. And whilst not included in the diagram, there are plenty of project management fads and ‘silver bullet’ techniques being touted on a regular basis.

But we all need access to useful, relevant and current information to develop our knowledge and ground our experience – competency is founded on knowledge!!

One of our overriding considerations in developing these blogs, our published papers and our White Papers is to take new concepts and make the ideas both practical and usable. The other which is still a work-in-progress is to develop an indexed structure that makes the information easily accessible and findable (see:

See also our article: Reducing complexity in management communication


5 responses to “Communicating in a Rapidly Changing World

  1. Enjoyed reading this one from a lessons learned perspective…

  2. Linda, great article. I wonder just how much longer the PMP is going to hold out?

    While it has been a great ride for just about everyone, the fact remains- despite PMI having been around for close to 45 years and the PMP having been around for close to 30 years, I have yet to see ANY credible research indicating that those who have their PMP (or belong to PMI or have adopted the PMBOK Guide) are running their projects any more successfully than those who do not (have their PMP and/or belong to PMI and/or use the PMBOK Guide.

    At some point, SURELY common sense is going to “kick in” and people are going to see that SOMETHING is radically wrong with this picture?

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  3. Something else you may want to consider- When we take asset management + portfolio management + program management + project management and put them all together, (which is what we MUST do if we want to have any hope that projects will “succeed” more consistently) haven’t we come full circle right back to “general management” as defined by Peter Drucker in his 1973 “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Skills”?

    And while I fully agree with you that knowledge is one of the FOUNDATIONS of competency, that is only part of the picture. Citing the Merriem Webster Online dictionary, the definition of COMPETENCY (restated) is “the quality or state of being functionally adequate, characterized by marked or sufficient aptitude + attitude + skills + strength + knowledge”.

    What this tells us is that knowledge alone, without the aptitude (leadership?) and attitude (can do, make things happen?), skills (especially the soft skills) and strength (moral character) will not be enough.

    Something we all need to think about…….

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  4. Two quick points.

    Agree completely with your thoughts on competency (see the referenced White Paper). But remember, capability to do the current job without knowledge is a dead end with no potential for improvement – academia has a duty to make it new learnings accessible and useful to practitioners who want to improve.

    On the future of ‘PM’ as a specialist sub-discipline of management one potential future is very much the path taken by quality management and ‘all management’ grows to use aspects of PM. The body of knowledge around CMMI and systems engineering suggests that implementing ‘good practice’ can and does improve outcomes, but should this be separate or integrated with general management is open to discussion as is the final definitions of ‘good practice’.

    • Hi Pat,
      I am not discounting the role that knowledge plays at all. The point I am making is that knowledge ALONE is only a part (albeit a large) part of competency.

      If you go here and look at Figure 6 on page 13, I think that provides the single best illustration of the different types of knowledge (Krathwohl) and what role they play with regards to competency. And not only do the TYPES of knowledge matter, but HOW that knowledge is used (Bloom) is what really makes the difference between the “apprentice” the “journeyman” and the “master” practitioner.

      I am confident you will find that graphic to be extremely useful in your research as it has in mine.

      Dr. PDG, Jakarta

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