Change is the Only Constant

Wicked problems have always been around. However, they are increasingly common and important in a globalizing world in which the fact that our lives are increasingly interconnected structures human relations and, as the cliché has it, “change is the only constant.”

That line was supposed first uttered by Herodotus about 2,500 years ago. Who knows if that was true of ancient Greece or if he actually said it

There can be little doubt that it makes sense today, however. In almost all areas of life, the pace of change is accelerating. Whether we like it or not. Most analysts of my generation who study our changing world focus on technology. I was born in an age without computers, cell phones, satellite television, or the 24/7 news cycle. Many of my contemporaries feel overwhelmed by the new technologies that have been introduced in the last few years. We may have mastered smart phones, but streaming video is hard to deal with when you have spent your adult life watching programs when they were “on.” If we use social media, it’s mostly to see pictures and videos of our grandchildren.

But as the chart below suggests, it isn’t just technology. Our values have changed almost as fast on such issues as race, gender, and most other identity related issues.

Not all of that change has been for the better, including the rise of terrorism and the aspect of it that gets the most attention today, violent extremism. At home, we see this trend most clearly in the polarization that is paralyzing democracies in much of Europe and North America.

As you will see on the next page, the problems are compounded by the fact that we try to deal with our changing world with mental models and political institutions that were created during very different–and far more stable–times.