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In the wake of the September 11, 2001, assault on America's sense of security, many organizations found that even though they had not lost anyone to the terrorist's attacks, their employees were calling out for emotional help.[1] It's perfectly normal and reasonable that many people felt vulnerable and anxious in response to that harrowing and senseless chaos. But I think that the crisis assault on many people's sense of well-being was actually the last straw, one added to chronic anxiety generated by the uncertainty and rising demands of a borderless economy.

The most important goal for most Americans—and most people everywhere—is to achieve economic and other forms of security for their families and themselves. It is very stressful to work longer and harder, make decisions faster and faster, and never know for sure if it's enough to make you safe and to keep you secure. I think it was a relief to many people when their sense of unease, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion became a national mood and they could finally ask for help. Too many people are feeling chronically stressed.

We're stressed because we've lost the sanctuary of privacy. Personally, even though I don't carry a laptop or a pager when I'm on the road, the bright red message light on my hotel phone blinks stridently. If I forget to turn it off, my cell phone rings at 30,000 feet. It takes several hours a day to get through email. I'm awakened at absurd hours, in remote places, on weekends and vacations, because distance doesn't matter anymore and everyone is available to anyone at anytime, day or night.

My world has changed permanently because the world changes instantaneously.

In the relatively recent past, in the decades following World War II, the economy of the United States flourished, as did most of our large corporations. America dominated the world's economy and with few international competitors, there was no sense of urgency about doing things better, faster, or differently. In comparison with the present, conditions were comfortable, organizations were frequently complacent, change—if any—was slow and gradual, and a five-year plan had some credibility. In those stable conditions, people felt they had a reasonable amount of control in their life and they understood what was happening because it wasn't much different from what they had seen before. From the early 1950s to the early 1990s, these conditions were widespread in America and much of the rest of the world.

Some people and some organizations continue to behave as if nothing has changed: There's still no sense of urgency, time is not money, there are endless amounts of both, and creating a report that leads to nothing is still considered “work.”

When I moved to San Diego in 1981 I learned that building a new airport was such a controversial issue that nothing had been decided and nothing had been built for almost 40 years. Our airport, Lindbergh Field, is currently the smallest airport of any major American city. It has only one runway, which is glaringly inadequate for America's sixth largest city, and that's especially true in the winter when the city is susceptible to fog. In the past five years, our previous mayor, Susan Golding, led the effort to pour more than $400 million into refurbishing an airport with one runway that has no room to expand.

I thought that was about as bad as it could get, but I was wrong. On November 28, 2001, The San Diego Union-Tribune printed a small article that it buried in Section 2.[2] The Port Commission of San Diego authorized funds for a $1.9 million analysis of the future of our airport. That report will be added to the more than two dozen studies involving Lindbergh Field that have been completed since 1943. Those studies have led to neither decisions nor actions. The issue of San Diego's airport has not been resolved for almost 60 years.

In general, governments—like colleges and universities, most of the public school system, or the regulated part of utilities—remain bastions of stable conditions. But, for the majority of people, stable, predictable, controllable conditions are going or are gone.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the business equivalent of the earth's tectonic plates started shifting. Extraordinary advances in technology, especially the advent of the user-friendly World Wide Web in the early 1990s, created a borderless economy in which time and distance no longer create protection from competition and change.

Borderlessness is the opposite of stability: It creates conditions of accelerating change and thus of unpredictability. It is the borderlessness of the world that has created permanent turbulence. Increasing numbers of organizations and people everywhere face ever-increasing competition and accelerating core change.

The borderless world is fundamentally one of unprecedented opportunity—and of uncertainty, turbulence, and a lack of personal and organizational control. The sheer amount, speed, and magnitude of basic change is unprecedented. Ten years ago no one would have predicted major layoffs in the midst of great times, or three-year-olds with their own computers, or cell phones with a personal telephone number that you carried everywhere. Now we take these changes, and change itself, for granted. But, today's reality is increasingly disruptive and immensely demanding, and that generates stress and uncertainty for an awful lot of people.[3]

Although people and organizations in stable times think they're dealing with major changes, the pace is slow; change is gradual, not transformational; there's plenty of time to do things thoroughly, to analyze and plan, and to act with thoughtful premeditation. In stable times, if nothing much actually happens that's too bad, but still okay because competitors aren't trying to eat you for lunch. Because organizations and their members feel the world is a pretty predictable place, they also believe that it makes sense to create long-term plans, 5- and 10-year strategic analyses, for example. Perhaps most important of all, gradual, incremental change does not involve any major disruptions from what is already familiar, it doesn't invalidate what people already know, and it doesn't generate fear and anxiety.

Borderless conditions—continuously accelerating basic change, unpredictability, uncertainty, and risk—are both exciting and scary. They're exhilarating for confident people who thrive on risk and find stability boring. People who are already confident and resilient may well flourish during fast cycles of economic growth and destruction. But for people who had long enjoyed and still long for the calm of stable conditions, the transformation of the “Prudential Rock”[4] to quicksand is very frightening.

In addition to technological changes, the 1980s and 1990s saw a huge growth in international trading treaties, improvements in transportation and containerization, privatization, and deregulation. As a result, work now migrates anywhere it can be done well and at an appropriate cost. The help desk you call is very likely to be located in India, Ireland, or Jamaica, and you never know that. There are fewer hurdles to setting up shop down the block or around the world. There are endless pressures to quickly get costs down and ever-rising requirements to do things faster and better. Competition increases faster than does opportunity.

Borderless conditions expand opportunities while they simultaneously unleash fiercely competitive forces. In-creasingly, ideas and money move in a nanosecond, surging toward areas in which potentials are high and fleeing from commitments where profit is negligible. The result is churn, high rates of job and industry growth and destruction. That's why huge layoffs continued during the great bull market and soaring economic years of the 1980s and 1990s. Within the same corporation, for example, divisions were started and other divisions were closed because they no longer had a future.

Most of all, reality becomes increasingly Darwinian. A borderless economy is far more results-driven than the no-consequence business culture that's typical in stable conditions.[5] When money speeds to arenas where the profit potential is high and flees from where there is no potential, the result is instability. Huge layoffs, plant closings, restructuring, and outsourcing replace job security and tenure. Web speed becomes normal, and change, turbulence, and unpredictability all accelerate. That's a high-risk reality.

Ironically, capitalism's essential harshness produces its very vitality. In the new reality, sine wavelike cycles of both creation and destruction are occurring swiftly.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter observed that capitalism is in a constant state of flux in which entrepreneurs introduce changes that force incumbents to adapt or die.[6] Capitalism continuously destroys whatever already exists and replaces it with something new and better.[7]

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