Only That Which Can Change Can Continue 

Remember Pokemon Go? What a sensation! Blowing up from what felt like nowhere, Pokemon Go was the third most popular app download in 2016, behind Snapchat and Messenger, and the number one Google search for that year.  

And who followed the controversy with Lamar Odom? It must be at least some of you because that was the number one global Google search in 2015, (followed closely by Charlie Hebdo...) 

These searches represent the zeitgeist for those years. These examples, which feel like a flash in the plan, were only 2 or 3 years ago. It’s amazing how quickly things can change. 

Zeitgeist comes straight from German – zeit meaning time, and geist meaning spirit – literally, the spirit of our time. These are moments and concepts that are symbolic and relevant– but don’t always have enduring significance.  

We’re not always good at sifting through the material stuff, to figure out the difference between what’s important, and what’s just top of mind right now. It’s not a failing, either. More than anything, it’s a wiring issue. We’re clouded by cognitive biases that put recency, visibility and familiarity first, which can make it hard to know whether we’re judging our context accurately.  

So… we anchor to what’s happening now, we jump on bandwagons, and often do a rubbish job of working out how to change our behaviour in ways that match our ideas about the future.  

This all makes sense – it’s our brains making things easy for us. It’s what Daniel Kahneman calls ‘System 1’ – the part of our brain that keeps us efficient by using shortcuts to make decisions. 

On a day to day basis, this is useful and important – if we had to analyse every choice we made, we’d be all worn out by morning tea time! 

From a big picture standpoint though, shortcuts can be a problem. When we need to be aware of our context and use that information to make decisions about what things to respond to, and what actions to prioritise, shortcuts can trip us up.   

There’s lots of good stuff we can do about that from a strategy standpoint to challenge our assumptions and test for evidence. Which is great. Ultimately, though, we’re all fallible – and the future is unpredictable. 

So, should we just throw in the towel now? Stop trying to make decisions that shape our future and just go with the flow? 

I mean, maybe. Or… we could stay focused on our big ‘why’ and adapt how we respond as things change, to make sure we’re still on track. 

“All failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation.” - Max McKeown 

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a kid – but for the last 15 years or so, my strategy has been rudimentary. Whenever I want to play a new song, I’ve grabbed some tabs from the internet, looked up unfamiliar chords to supplement the ones I know well, and played things I like the sound of. It’s a strategy that works… to a point. I realised recently, since picking the guitar back up after a long hiatus, that I haven’t grown or improved for a long time. So this year, I’ve taken a different tack and signed up for some music theory lessons.  

The difference has blown me away.  

This pivot in my learning strategy has blown open my understanding and appreciation for music. All of a sudden, the musical possibilities seem endless, so long as I stay committed to growing, learning and changing. 

Constant change and adaptation is important for even the best skillset, thinking, fad, or strategy. You might be surprised (or not) for example, to learn that Pokemon Go is more popular in 2019 than ever. The difference? It’s no longer operating at the “phenomena” level and instead has become a more refined, complex challenge, with the added bonus of a community functionality that has been a hit with fans. This is a brilliant example of adapting a strategy in response to changing cultural and popular context. 

“Only that which can change, can continue” - James P. Carse

Don’t get me wrong, change and transformation - particularly inside complex organisations or for tricky problems, takes time. Serious time. It’s often hard won, and the idea of relitigating or pulling it all to pieces again can be exhausting. But only that which can change, can continue. If we want to have real impact, that is. 

Like Pokemon Go, strategy isn’t a ‘one and done’. It’s a living, evolving beast that needs constant iteration – a finger on the pulse, a commitment to figuring out what’s relevant, and an openness to changing in response. Done well, adaptive strategy doesn’t mean starting from scratch, but becoming better, smarter and more focused as we learn and grow. 

Is your strategy keeping up with the times? Or are you still hooked on an old zeitgest?  

….caught a Charizard lately? 


Til next week,