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“The New Normal” is Insanity

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, November 5, 2009

More and more, it seems, “Welcome to the new normal” is becoming the mantra of the day when it comes to the pace of our business enterprises. We hear it everywhere from the hip technology gurus (ahem) and the purveyors of new technology. But what exactly are we talking about here? 

Ostensibly, the phrase seems to amount to this: Activity in the world of technology—and thus the world of business—is accelerating beyond our wildest expectations, so we’d better get used to it and adapt somehow. During the recent SAS Premier Business Leadership Series in Las Vegas, SAS Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Jim Davis used this phrase, and pointed to what he called “the rapid and increasingly rapid pace of change” in technology development that has brought us such useful tools as business analytics. 

I’ve wondered in previous posts just how fast will be too fast for us poor humans. At what point do we throw up our hands and say, “I just can’t keep up”? Yet business planning, the one area of business operations that cannot afford to reach that point, is also being told to accelerate or perish. Pundits like Mark Jeffries, who moderated several panels at the SAS event, stress “the value of contingency-based planning” for companies and enterprises that want to find balance and drive change. 

That’s a fine idea, as long as we can plan for every significant contingency, but is that really possible? If we’re playing for the world chess championship, our focus is on taking into account all possible contingencies that would result in defeat, then planning to avoid them. High-level players do this very well, and IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing computer does it even better—yet both have been known to lose. If a world-class expert and a supercomputer can’t plan for every damaging contingency, how are we poor humans ever going to do so? And the faster that changes take place, the less time we have to think about a response! 

In human terms, it is easy to see how this rapid acceleration is breeding pressure, and how we could easily fold if we find that pressure too overwhelming. In essence, the phrase “Welcome to the new normal” is an attempt to legitimize the pressure, and to criticize those who can’t stand up to it. It has already been amply demonstrated that all contingencies cannot be planned for, so to insist that this is possible is sheer insanity. Webster’s Online Dictionary offers the following definition of insanity: “something utterly foolish or unreasonable.” If that shoe doesn’t fit with the crazy notion that we can plan for every contingency, I don’t know what odd piece of footwear will. 

So let’s stop putting all this ridiculous pressure on our planning folks, especially in insurance, where moving rapidly and incurring more risk is a violation of church and state. Business planning needs to take into account both the short and long terms, and to the extent that technology aids that process it is a blessing. When we assume, however, that our planning must match the pace of technology development, we are marching headlong into looney bin territory. No one can plan that quickly or extensively—not even a supercomputer. 

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

Comments (1)

Possibly we should lool at technology as the means to get back to relationship building... less and less effort to manipulate data and more timely and accurate information with which to make strategic decisions.

Posted by: Laura V | November 6, 2009 3:36 PM

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