Book Review: Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 20, 2021

Given the fact that we remain in a tumultuous world with the pace of change accelerating even more due to COVID, I was intrigued with Joi Ito and Jeff Howe’s book, “Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future.

Interestingly enough, it was first published in 2016 with a new chapter update in 2019 – before COVID hit.  And this book is even more relevant today than before!

The basic premise states that “our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society to understand them.”  That “what a technology does, the real impact it will eventually have on society, is often that which we least expect.”  And that the digital age (a confluence of Moore’s law and the Internet) has thrown our current “episteme” (set of rules, assumptions, beliefs, prejudices, norms, and conventions) that guide our thinking into chaos that will lead, in time, to stability as a new scientific consensus formed around a new paradigm.

So what are those “new” principles that will help shape our thinking into the future?

Ito and Howe believe there are

9 organizing principles:

  1. Emergence over Authority – “When organizations chartered whatever course those lofty few up on the quarterdeck deemed wise – to emergence, in which many more decisions aren’t made so much as they emerge from large groups or stakeholders.”
  2. Pull over Push – “Leveraging modern communications technologies and the decreased cost of innovation to move power from the core (authority) to the edges, enabling serendipitous discoveries and providing opportunities for innovators to mine their own passions.”
  3. Compasses over Maps – “In an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost.  A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go.”
  4. Risk over Safety – “As the cost of innovation declines, the nature of risk changes…requiring a complete rethinking of how we approach the idea of risk.”
  5. Disobedience over Compliance – allowing “passion for undirected, free-flowing research, regardless of what their bosses wanted them to do.”
  6. Practice over Theory – “There is often a higher cost to waiting and planning than there is to doing and then improvising…You don’t need to wait for permission or explain yourself before you begin.  And once you’ve started, if your circumstances change or your development process takes an unexpected turn, you don’t always need to stop and figure out what happened before you go on.”
  7. Diversity over Ability – “A bigger circle benefits all…the potency of the pixie dust in crowdsourcing is largely a function of the diversity that naturally occurs in a large group of people.”
  8. Resilience over Strength – “At some point, there will be failures, and that the most functional systems will be able to regenerate rapidly.  The key is to recognize when resisting failure costs more than yielding to it and to maintain your resilience even as your organization grows.”
  9. Systems over Objects – “Responsible innovation requires more than speed and efficacy.  It also requires a constant focus on the overall impact of new technologies, and an understanding of the connections between people, their communities, and their environments.”

And while a fascinating read, there are some parts that are hard to get through, and I just had to put it down to think about what I just read.  I had to read some pages twice, and it took me far longer than normal to read this book.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator.  She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 27 years.  She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.  Her latest book, 123 Ways to Add Pizazz to a Panel Discussion was published in January 2021.

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