navigating the pace of things and possibilities plans 



“Because of the different rates of change of its components, a building is always tearing itself apart.”

Stewart Brand


“The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one.”



I believe there are a number of things we do not discuss well with regard to business, and specifically, change in business: pacing of a business and change & its relationship to paces.

Now. It’s quite possible in a complex world with so many dynamics your brain can quickly turn to fluff that we attempt to simply things into the graspable. It’s quite possible that why business, and business change, is often discussed in 2-dimensional framing, networks and phases. It’s also quite possible in doing so we over simplify and end up in some simplistic “meme summary” world or an oversimplification which appears useful, but is useless.

The reality is every organization has a ‘pace’ (usually captured in a description like ‘vibe’ or ’energy’). It is, in essence, what we feel as a generalization. What we fail to acknowledge as we do so is that this ‘vibe’ is a complex mix of pace dynamics – individuals, cliques, teams, tribes, departments, etc. even a Porsche engine has slow moving, even solid, pieces in combination with pieces moving at rates almost invisible to the eye. Organizations are systems and systems have parts and parts move at different paces so that the totality works efficiently & effectively.

About Layers of Pace (as a concept)

Pacing is difficult to understand in an organization. It is difficult because of how, conceptually, layered the problem of pacing is and, yes, it is a problem. It is a problem because no layer remains in ‘neutral’ nor is it neutral in its motivation nor its impact. This doesn’t mean we need to simplify, but instead try and understand. Which leads me to Stewart Brand and Pace Layering.

The idea is that there are multiple levels of pace in the world spanning from nature to fad/commerce speeds.


“The outer layers—fashion and commerce—move fastest while the inner layers of nature and culture move much more slowly. Because they’re all moving at different speeds, the system is better able to react to shocks. Some parts respond quickly to the shock allowing slower parts to ignore the shock and maintain their steady duties of system continuity.”

Stewart Brand


Pace Layers are not just internal

I don’t believe it takes a stretch of imagination to see how the layers relate to an individual business. That said.  Let me flip Brand’s thought – the slower parts ignore desired change and remain steady unless you can affect the nature of things. This is true with regard to businesses as well as change in general. Most ‘change initiatives’ focus on internal dynamics (objectives the business has for itself to interact with the external world) and more often than not ignore the dynamics WITH the external context when implemented. Simplistically it is an additional friction point which creates either positive friction (added value in interactions with external environment) or negative friction (questions of value to the external environment). While I am certainly not suggesting all complexity needs to be built into organizational change (the infiniteness of that challenge seems counterproductive to a specific change goal), I will suggest that we have a tendency, in focusing on reshaping behavior/attitudes internally to address things from a behavioral aspect almost in a linear cause & effect relationship. In doing so it ignores the pacing of everything else.

Yes. We need to acknowledge the external world (driven by technology) has an impact on the individual business (internally on employees and company identity). It was Toffler who first publicly noted this relationship, in different words, in 1985’s The Adaptive Corporation. His point, at that time, was technology was creating sociological and cultural changes which would force businesses into an ‘identity crisis.’ True then, true now. The one thing I believe we can all agree on is the internet has increased the speed of culture.

That is the outward facing pace and the one most likely to create an imprint on everyone’s perceptions – which affect reality beliefs. Certainly, many things are fundamentally moving faster and its possible that all levels of pacing are moving faster, but to suggest nature (biology) moves at the same speed as culture is nuts. BUT. It creates a sense that everything is not only moving faster but things are moving too fast to grasp. It creates a sense we are living in a totally liminal space and, frankly, when we feel that way, we will hold on to whatever appears to be stable.

All of this gets compounded that within all this complexity people will inherently pick & choose what they want making “the more things change; the more things stay the same” a simplistic trope encouraging everyone to ignore purposeful change as a necessity because stability simply becomes not only a means to remain sane, but had no practical consequences.

** note: this is an interesting discussion with Simon DeDeo, who studies cultural evolution through data, on a recent podcast.


While the specifics of our current speed and cultural outputs may be different, people have been grappling with how to think about this kind of change for a long time. But here is my point.

If you want effective change in a business, you need to map out all the paces. All the levels, and attempt to have the pace be comfortable enough that everyone feels at least some sort of sync. Nature (let’s call it infrastructure of the business) needs to change ALONG with people and culture and society (or the market). I’d argue personal change, on an individual level, is exactly the same. You can lead structural change with legal (governing) decisions and even some commerce (buying) decisions, but if you get too far out of whack either the gyre flies off the centre (Yeats, Second Coming) either you fall into disarray or the change just seems to become unattainable or undesirable.

But here is some good news. While plans will break, they will most likely break in one of 2 ways:

      • On a single pace level:

You try and do something inconsistent with the pace of the specific group you are attempting to elicit change within. The best way I can describe this is the C-level meeting in which someone says in an irritated voice “why isn’t this happening faster.” In disregarding the pace, someone more ‘wise’ establishes what is perceived to be a ‘reasonable timeframe’ and objectives & milestones are established to force a pace. Its like asking Clydesdales to be greyhounds or Formula One cars to be dump trucks. Easily fixed, if acknowledged.

      • Levels of pacing get too far out of whack

You try and even out the change. I am not suggesting it be completely even, just even it out. In doing so you create what I call “layer dissonance”, in other words, unevenness.  Yeah. Unevenness, in general, is not considered a positive in a business and even less so with any organizational change (note: unevenness is actually a net-positive for a business as it is a reflection of agility to meet emerging opportunities). In fact. Extreme unevenness, in change management, often looks like it is not working to a C-level audience and, in fact, extreme unevenness, if associated with layer dissonance, will most likely lead to failure. Easily fixed, if acknowledged.


I will note the most common way to implement organizational change plans is either through staged phases or managed change. Through my eyes they are all ‘construct’ methodologies to manage pace. While constructs can be good, they can also constrict desired behavior and even attitudes. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out here that we need to acknowledge institutional debt , not an individual’s aversion to change, is most likely the biggest impediment to change. That ‘debt’ creates a structural gravity and change needs to defy in order to be successful. You either change gravity or discard some of the weight/debt in order to accommodate additional weight.

The managed change is almost a subconscious acknowledgement of pace layering. It seems like a way to have everyone aligned (if but for a moment). I’d note that Pflaeging/Hermann OpenSpace Beta and maybe “working out loud’ (Stepper) kind of builds in pacing into their organizational initiatives.


Possibility Plans

Which leads me to what I call “possibility plans.” In general, a business is better when they have plans. But not all plans are created equal. Plans should be built to work toward something rather than working to do something.

I have been very clear I have a dubious relationship with objective planning and milestones and specific targets. Its dubious because I tend to believe, in general, they create fragile businesses through ‘objective blindness’  and it creates a finite mindset (trains behavior/attitude to need a milestone in order to be successful). That said. I like planning and plans. Let me explain.


“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain / For promis’d joy!”

“To a Mouse” Robert Burns


Plans are good because broken plans represent disciplined opportunities, therefore, well made plans are more about possibilities than they are simple execution.

The best laid plan of mice and men always fall apart. Well. I don’t know about mice’s plans, but people’s sure do. Always. Now. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. And even a plan for when the plan falls apart. And maybe even another thought on another plan. All those things involve change.

And then of course there is the plan you hadn’t thought of that actually becomes the plan you actually do. Simplistically, all of those broken plans are about possibilities. Possibilities are change at its best.

So. Some of the best business people don’t waste time stopping or slowing down to try and glue the plan back together again. They keep moving and make the best of what pieces are still within grasp. Maybe create some new pieces of the plan to replace some that broke off. Keep an eye on the vision or the goal. And let some pieces catch up to you later if they can.

In other words, ‘don’t fear the broken plan.’ You just cannot live in fear of the unknown. You make your plans, take the necessary precautions, train people, assign responsibilities, prepare your mind for the action, prepare for the fact you may not know the actual form all the action will take, and then go.

Success in navigating multiple levels of pace is you don’t stop to fret over broken plans you simply seek out new possibilities (in fact often finding innovative fresh thinking on the move) and leave behind anything not key to achieving the goal (and that can be people and materials) always plucking out the possibilities that may exist on a different plane and different pace (but are pluckable at that time & place).

Look. I love plans. I love a well thought out plan. But I absolutely expect the best well thought out plan to not reach the finish line looking exactly the same way it did when we started.

Yes. Something will go really right that you want to take advantage of that breaks off something else that was a lower priority or breaks off because it simply cannot keep pace.

** note: about keep pace. Far too often in a world shouting at you that speed is the only thing that matters, people will grab onto things that are only going fast. This is a mistake. In fact, counterintuitively in a world screaming for faster, broken plans may actually reflect dispensing of pieces & parts that are going too fast. So your plans should reject ‘too speedy things’ – fads would be included in this – as being too asynchronistic for what the greater objective narrative is. I am not suggesting this is always the case – you can eject too slow, too burdensome components also – but simply maintaining something because it is ‘fast’ is absurd.


Look. yes, sometimes something goes astronomically wrong and you have to replan while moving.

Let’s call this the breakdown and repackaging. The plan is all in pieces. Knowledge is untied from the foundation. The selection, flow, and discussion of knowledge have all moved from quasi-controlled spaces (at the point of creation or filtering) out of your control space (note: control is mostly illusionary, yet, you do control decisions and resources applied). What this means is that you end up taking the small pieces you can grasp (and are valuable to you and your vision), mix them up and create fresh understandings within the organization and without the organization. Yeah. You are plucking from any and all paces of layers to attack possibilities. I would suggest by doing so you are not only creating an effective executional plan, but also tapping into what some organizational behavior studies call “shared understandings” or maybe differently said it is when people absorb similar patterns or when people create shared patterns.

** note: In almost everything I have described above a leader has “lost” some control and passed it along to the organization or group. This is more than “trusting the organization or your people.” This is a personal understanding of “self.” It takes some inner strength to watch “your plan” devolve and morph into something different (sometimes better but almost always better understood by the organization).

 This is the art & science of possibilities plan in that one understands how to manage, or oversee, the breakdown and repackaging so that in the end it shifts from being “management’s plan” and it becomes the “organization’s plan.” Tricky. But doable.


So. The reality is the best plans are not exactly linear but evolving. This is true because, well, of pace layering. The best plans interconnect the different paces within an organization and outside the organization. Once again, I believe this is also true of an individual – interconnect inner self and outer self and culture & society.

Theis means you have to accept the fact a plan is always happening though progress and does not often follow a neatly developed plan. The plan will break. People will break. You need to work with the energy and pacing and shape it.

This leads me to an awesome chart from Peter Senge who has a model called “The Dance of Change Tree” (he is an engineer forced to manage organizational change so I think he provides a really neat perspective).


Reinforcing loops are represented by the visible parts of the tree and include new business processes, networking, business results and personal results. These drive change process The roots of the tree are the factors that can hold your change process back. These limiting factors show up at the beginning of the change process (no resources, inconsistent leadership behaviors), in the middle (fear and anxiety, resentment, lack of measurement) and ultimately when trying to establish sustainability (lack of linkage to business plans/vision, unclear roles). But it shows the plan will break because of human nature. I would argue that this tree of change is just another version of Pace Layering. But it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that pieces & parts work at different paces and the only way a plan can succeed, and have the resilience to work, it needs to accommodate pacing and loop back upon itself to gather yup pieces working at different paces.

This is true of organizations, people, projects, etc.

The truth is most plans, most thinking, are linear in nature while nature, and the world, is non linear in nature. A key component of complexity is layers of pacing and if we are honest with ourselves, we not only do not plan for it, but rarely even acknowledge it.

That’s it.

The pace of an organization is tricky to assess, but important to recognize when desire any type of change – behaviors or attitudes.

Inertia can look like speed.

Speed can look like velocity.

And status quo actually has motion within it.

All of which suggests pacing is an issue one cannot ignore.

Lastly. I assume most competent organizational experts can design effective change constructs, therefore one can assume broken plans are mostly a function of asynchronous pacing. Yet, broken plans also represent possibilities. I imagine my greater point is that change really isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be and that timing, pacing, is actually harder than we make it out to be. Ponder.


** Author’s note: while this has to do with organizational change one could argue the basic concept is applicable to individual change. Ponder.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce