(3) Paralyzed by Change - Five Things on My Mind

There’s nothing I love more than a conversation that makes you think. Someone says something—it could be as little as one word or sentence—that starts connecting dots in your brain, and you can’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day or week.
I’ve had a couple of those in the last few days, so I decided to rework my original plan for today’s newsletter to get them on paper. Long-time readers will know that my main reason for starting this newsletter was to help me flesh out ideas and themes - so consider this squarely in that bucket.
My original idea was to publish an update on the elections in South Africa, India, Mexico, and the European Parliament. My new intern, Marcus Mesina, at Duco, has been working hard on this as one of his first assignments for me. I want to ensure it gets the attention it deserves, so I’ve published it separately. Go here to find what is happening online, the latest polling, key links, recent news stories, and other helpful information. This is for you if you are interested in what is happening but do not have time to read many articles.
Now, on to what is on my mind:
  1. Change is happening so fast that some people are paralyzed by it. I’ve seen this come up in a few contexts. Alice Hunsberger wrote in her takeaway from the Marketplace risk conference last week that “Things are changing so rapidly that no one is looking too far into the future.” I talked to two other consultants, and they both said it's hard to predict the workflow from clients because clients aren’t even sure what they need. Things are moving so quickly. There’s also an element here where people don’t want to get close to anything political, know change might be coming in the form of Trump winning the election in November, and want to keep their powder dry until that is known.
    1. Another topic that came up in conversation was someone mentioning they think we are in a secret recession—meaning we might not technically be in one, but people are acting like we are. Organizations continue to cut back, have layoffs, and are nervous about the economy. This is causing people to be paralyzed and anxious about spending money or taking risks they don’t have to.
    2. Another paralyzing effect is how quiet everything feels right now. Another person described it as the collective just waiting for something to happen. For the next shoe to drop. Quiet pressure is building up as we all hold our breath.
  1. Few have time for long-term planning, which is a mistake. One of the sentences someone said to me that got me thinking was, “Where does long-term planning fit in an organization?” They talked about how every organization is different and how getting anyone to focus on it is hard. Some feel like all they can do is try to ride the wave, but the smart ones know there is an opportunity to shape the details of that change. If I were talking to any CEO right now I would be advising them to put someone in charge of long-term planning. Here’s why …
  1. The waves of change will only get bigger over the next five to eight years. This one is a brainworm for me right now (too soon? I don’t really have a brain worm ala RFK). I cannot stop thinking about what is coming for us. I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to realize this, but long-term thinking is my jam. Once everyone else caught up to me on all the elections this year, I found myself getting a little bored (just a little) and started looking for the next thing. Y’all, 2024 will look like a walk in the park compared to what is coming - an open primary on both sides of a U.S. election, which will start immediately after the midterms in 2026, where you will have a ton of candidates trying to find an edge and using AI to do so. We’ll have two years of that drama that leads into another major year of elections in 2019 - of which it’s unlikely Modi will run again in India.
  1. Don’t downplay the AI hype, but adoption will not happen overnight. I’m with Steven Levy on this one. It’s time to believe it. But I also think we must recognize that it will take people a while to adopt it and a while for the technology to improve. We didn’t all have iPhones immediately in our pockets when Steve Jobs introduced them in 2007. It took until 2015 for them to become mainstream. Not everyone just started buying things or using the internet when it became available to consumers. This will take time. One thing I’m hearing in this vein is how, despite the hype of a flood of deepfakes coming our way, it hasn’t materialized yet. Mark Scott’s column and entire series on AI and elections are worth the read. I think this is for a few reasons - including that many of the upcoming elections aren’t that close, so there’s not much room to sway the outcome, and the U.S. election hasn’t taken off yet (plus people aren’t wild about Trump or Biden). However, I think another is that people are still learning to use technology. I told someone building deepfake detection software for the election that they should realize they might be creating a tool before its time, and while it might not be used a lot here in 2024, there could be a real need in future years.
  1. Whoever wins the U.S. election will dramatically alter AI’s path. Matthew Kaminski from Politico has a fantastic story titled “The Coming War Between DC and Silicon Valley.” He talked to Google’s Kent Walker, Meta’s Nick Clegg, Jack Clark at Anthropic, and others. I want to pull out Kent and Nick’s quotes (emphasis mine):
    1. There is a risk that people think of this as social media 2.0 because its first public manifestation was a chat bot,” Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, tells me over a conversation at the search giant’s offices here.
      “The U.S. made a concerted effort to develop more guardrails more quickly than before,” says Nick Clegg, the former British deputy prime minister who has navigated politics for Meta since 2018. “That’s a good thing. [But] don’t try to micromanage the technology itself.
      Two key quotes there. AI is not social media, and don’t micromanage the technology. The tech company giants’ message in a nutshell. And what are they trying to prepare for? A Biden administration will likely continue to make tech companies' lives harder with a focus on anti-trust and other regulations. A Trump administration will likely focus more on competition with China and be more hands-off - except for their complaints over perceived censorship. This is going to be incredibly important to pay attention to - and get right - during a time when the die has yet to be cast.
Amidst these things, another thing on my mind is how this is all wreaking havoc on our mental health. I feel like I’m going through the wringer and grasping for ways to stay grounded. Not a day goes by when someone brings up their struggles or how others are looking to them for help with their own. It feels like it is getting worse - all this change and uncertainty throughout a long time is taking its toll. Many say it’s since the pandemic. For some of us, it goes back to 2016. We need to discuss it more, how people find ways to cope, and how we can support one another.
The same goes for helping one another adapt to working in an ever-changing and chaotic environment. Even though we know change is coming, we still have a lot of agency to shape that change. To do so, we’ll need to keep an eye on the long–term horizon while taking quite the zig-zagged path to get there. Oh, and of course, Panic Responsibly.
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