All things change at their own pace

“We never step into the same river twice, for new waters are always flowing upon us”. Heraclitus taught us that change is constant, but what he didn’t say is that all things change at different paces. Rocks change more slowly than animal species, which change more slowly than a single tree, and the weather changes minute by minute. We know this to be true, obvious even, but we can find it hard to recognise and reconcile the impact it has on us. Perhaps, because we perceive time as a constant and continuous stream always appearing to us at the same pace, we glance over the fact that different things change at different rates.

The concept of change happening at different paces for different aspects of something was described by architect Frank Duffy when he coined the phrase ‘shearing layers’. He used it to describe how a building isn’t a single entity of its own but is made up of different things that change at different rates. So whereas the shell of the building might change slowly, needing to be replaced in fifty years, the wiring and plumbing within the building changes more quickly and so would need to be replaced every ten years, and the furniture within the building might be replaced within three years. To Duffy, and those architectural designers who build on his ideas, there was no such thing as a ‘building’, just the different shearing layers changing on different time scales.

We could say the same of so many things, and it might help us think of them in a different way. We could say there is no such thing as a ‘relationship’ between two people. Relationships are made up of component parts such as values, interests, trust, intimacy, which may change at different speeds for the people in the relationship. We could say that there is no such thing as an ‘organisation’. Organisations are just a collection of components: infrastructure, strategy, people, all of which change, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, than each other. We could say there is no such thing as an ‘economy’, just a means of production, distribution, supply and demand control mechanisms, which all operate on their own time scales.

We talk of change itself as a disruptive force when instead it is the misaligned rates of change that cause disruption and disconnection. So, just as the architects sought ways to design buildings that allowed things that change slowly to not prevent the things that change more quickly, perhaps we can consider the same. Perhaps we can accept that things will change at their own pace, not try to stop them, but find other ways to seek alignment and connection.