Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Education in a time of exponential change

We stand at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution; a time when technology is advancing at an exponential rate; a time when technology will disrupt our every endeavour; a time when technology will impact every part of our lives; a time when education will need skilled leaders to successfully transition learning into the fourth age.
I was born at the dawn of the third industrial revolution, the digital age; the early 1960's, the time when computers changed from being people who spent their lives manually calculating, to machines (thanks Hidden Figures for teaching me this!); where the advances in telecommunications enabled greater connectedness between people, and social norms were challenged on every front - although I missed most of the latter as I was too busy attending primary school at the time!

So as we stand on the brink of this exponential change I put on my two favourite hats, education and leadership, and I begin to wonder. What does leadership look like as we transition into a time when we experience significant change in every area of our lives?

Dr Peter Cammock from the Leadership Lab at the University of Canterbury, is one of my favourite leadership gurus. In his book The Dance of Leadership he writes:

"When the ship is in a stable sea and plying a pre-arranged course, management works well enough. It is when a storm threatens, or icebergs clutter the sea-lanes, or when the traditional ports and sea-lanes are no longer available that management loses its functionality. At this point leadership is required."

I look at the world around me. I look at our schools and other institutions of learning and I see exponential change coming as a result of the rapid advances being made in technology. I go into classrooms that still look like traditional places of learning, but the students are connected to the world through their devices. I rely on Google maps to find me the fastest route to the airport and I use a robot at the supermarket to self-check my purchases (A robot you say? Surely not!? It is a self-checkout. Yes and no. It is a robot only we don't see it as such because it holds little resemblance to R2D2).

We are rapidly leaving behind our traditional ports and sea-lanes and we are entering a time of great change. Change will start to happen at a faster rate than we can manage and it is at this point that leadership not management comes to the fore.

So what does leadership look at times of exponential change?

  • It has a learner mindset; a passion to discover; an awareness of what is happening in the world around; It has a strong moral compass, as the known becomes unknown with that which matters most, standing strong at the core; 
  • It has a passion for people and discovering ways to empower leadership at all levels; whether it is leadership over self or leadership over many;
  • It is willing to embrace change, to intentionally move towards the new rather than hiding behind the old.
  • It is has a default setting of open, being willing to share insights and to support others along the journey.
  • It looks to industries other than its own to see what they are doing to prepare for and to manage change.
The fourth industrial revolution is beginning to gather momentum and as it begins to speed up it is wise and impactful leadership that will guide our world into the next stage of human evolution.


  1. Like this as an ideas sharing place. Keep it up. Seems to me that biggest issue of today is not the advancing techie stuff, but the absence of its recognition by those in places to recognise that the Wave is about to arrive. Maybe there is an element of self interest in this realisation? Most likely most can't see beyond next year. How does this get changed. Ian

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  3. A great initiative to catalyze some creative thinking. Exponential change which will pose challenges for education at all levels. I personally think appropriately skilled tertiary students could work off student debt as classroom support. And yes we will need new approaches to leadership; perhaps artificial intelligence will help identify and redeploy the narcissistic, venal and capricious before they rise to far.