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The pace of change is speeding up, or is it? Time to pause for thought

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By Dom Burch, managing director

December 10, 2015 | 6 min read

'Business people feel time is accelerating — but the figures suggest they are largely talking guff.'

Those are the words that stood out from a brilliant and insightful essay I read in the Economist this morning that challenges the popular view that time is speeding up.

Although plausible and littered with great examples of disruptive innovation (Uber, Airbnb, Apple), the Economist says there is just one problem – it is very hard to prove that it is actually happening.

Take transport manufacturing as an example. In 1913 Henry Ford reinvented the assembly line, cutting the time it took to make a car from 12 hours to 90 minutes.

In 1981-82 Honda launched 113 models of scooter in 18 months.

The author argues 'like dorks in awe of the cool kids, the rest of America’s business establishment chastises itself for being too slow.'

Adding, 'if you ask the boss of any big American company what is changing his business, odds are he’ll say speed. Firms are born and die faster, it is widely claimed. Ideas move around the world more quickly. Supply chains bristle to the instant commands of big-data feeds. Customers’ grumbles on Facebook are met with real-time tweaks to products. Some firms are so fast that they can travel into the future: Amazon plans to do “anticipatory” shipping before orders are placed.'

If you are willing to accept the argument that the pace of business innovation is no quicker today than it was in Henry Ford's time, that's not to say that it doesn't feel like time is speeding up.

The pace at Asda has never been quicker in my 13 years in retail. It's manic.

Now it could simply be we are all trying to do too much in any one day.

Our constant connection and limited downtime means life feels hectic.

200 years ago, darker winter nights like those we have now would have meant less manual work, less socialising, more rest.

100 years ago, limited in-home entertainment would have meant reflection by the open fire.

Nowadays endless stimulation and opportunities exist, and if you're wired like me you don't like the feeling of missing out.

Should you choose to Google 'is time speeding up?' a curious site pops up.

'In 5D' describes itself as 'the hottest esoteric, metaphysical, and spiritual news on the net!'. I make no guarantees to the accuracy of its claims, however, it raises an interesting thought.

According to In5D (as in two dimensions more than 3D, I guess) many people across the world are experiencing a feeling as if time is speeding up.

"While a day is still constituted in 24 hour increments, time seems to be moving faster than ever for many people.

"There are several explanations for the time speeding up phenomenon. The most popular explanation is that time isn’t speeding up, but our consciousness is, which makes it seem like time is speeding up."

Still with me?

The Independent has an easier explanation to follow, easier for me at any rate.

As we age, our sense of 'present' time begins to feel relatively short in comparison to our lifespan, so a year may feel quicker in old age compared to childhood. The emotional quality of an event also influences our perception. Time really does fly when you're having fun.

Termed the 'proportional theory' it makes good sense. Every year I'm on this planet, as a proportion of my own age, each year is a smaller increment.

Time for me is speeding up.

So what of it? Why does it matter? Regardless of time speeding up or standing still, what should we as marketers be doing about it?

As ever the comments section of the Economist are always worth referring to.

One reader reminds us of an Abraham Lincoln quote.

When responding to someone who suggested he move faster, he simply said: "I may walk slow, but I don't walk back".

Charting our progress, developing new ideas and ways of doing things in themselves are key measures of success.

Running quicker, for speed's sake alone, risks making us busy fools.

Yes, be healthily paranoid you may get left behind, but resist the urge to jump from one innovation to another.

Martin Reeves, a senior partner at The Boston Consulting Group, goes one step further in his comment: "It's incorrect to deduce that all companies should continue to operate with their historic approaches to strategy and level of agility. They need to choose an approach to strategy and execution, which reflects their environment - and that this can differ markedly by industry."

We need to be fit for the digital age, but fit in mind as well as body.

The digital age we are living through requires a different approach to business strategy, but it doesn't necessarily require you to rush.

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch

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