The world was huge,
and everything was change
— James Sallis, Marxist at 50
But still we change,
And always it’s the truth ahead we aren’t ready for
— Iain Banks, A Word to the Wise
The spider made its presence known a week ago. Overnight it had spun a web on one of our kitchen windows, then taken up residence at the centre of its finely crafted work. Seemingly for days it remained motionless. Waiting. Adapting. Matching its rhythms to those of the Earth. Day following night. Cool following warmth. Responding to the narrower ecosystem that surrounded it in our garden as a host of insects gathered, attracted to the pears, grapes, raspberries and figs ripening in its confines. Meals in flight.
Climactic change was reflected in movement. This was a responsive creature after all. High winds and biblical rainfall prompted a shift in position. The spider had moved, albeit unobserved by human eye, to the frame of the window, tucking its body in, but keeping one leg carefully positioned on the web. A sensor to detect imminent danger or a possible snack ensnared in its fine strands.
The sun’s return and the calming of the winds saw the re-adoption of a central position. But something was awry. As the dawn chorus of children preparing for school died down, the spider moved while I observed it for the first time. Front legs were lifted and then replaced on the web. It was a dance of agitation. In fact, it was a signal that its platform had been disturbed; that an alien body had disrupted the carefully balanced ecosystem.
[Photo credit: House Guest, Richard Martin, September 2015]
Suddenly another spider dropped from above, like an abseiler on a silky thread. Our own spider burst into action scurrying across, practically bungy-jumping from, then back on to, its own web. It was over in seconds. The intruder was repelled and order was restored. The defender of the status quo climbed back to the centre of the web, then slowly repositioned itself exactly at it had done seven days before.
Was this a creature that was change averse? Its contextual shifts and responsiveness to its environment suggested otherwise. Perhaps like the platform owners in the human world, it is selective about who it wants to partner with; mindful of disturbances to the wider ecosystem. Its responsiveness, then, is informed by context, focusing on different points on the proaction–reaction, fast–slow and making–using continuums as the environment changes around it.
I have apprenticed myself to this silent master.
The world turns and the world changes
— T. S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.
— Ted Hughes, Hawk Roosting
Context Shift is the name of a white paper I have written for the Change Management Institute (PDF). In it I explore how the change industry itself is having to adapt to change. Against a backdrop of organisational, societal, economic and cultural change, I highlight certain context shifts: the atomisation of traditional organisational structures; the emergence of platforms and ecosystems; the utility of time-bound partnerships that are founded upon cooperation; the need for leadership fluidity; and the alternatives to financial capital. To remain relevant, change specialists will need to work out how to accommodate these shifts, moving away from models founded upon transactional interaction, colour-by-numbers solutions and the exploitation of intellectual property.