“The only constant in life is change.” 

This statement comes from Greek philosopher Heraclitus.  We can only imagine what change meant for him thousands of years ago.  What would he think of all that has been going on now, especially in the past few years?

Think about how you managed your day-to-day work in 2019 and how you manage it today.

Here are some interesting statistics that demonstrate how much has changed in the past few years.

Remote Work

  • Before COVID-19, about 20% of employees worked from home all or most of the time.
  • In October 2020 (mid-COVID), that number changed to 71%
  • And by January 2022, almost 60% were still working from home all of most of the time.


  • According to Backlinko, the number of “Zoom annual meeting minutes” increased by 3300% from October 2019 (97 billion meeting minutes) to October 2020 (3.3 trillion meeting minutes)
  • “Zoom annual webinar minutes” increased 14x from January 2020 (3 billion) to April 2020 (42 billion) – in one quarter.
  • And Zoom meeting participants went from 10 million to 200 million from December 2019 to March 2020.


  • Quarterly revenue for 4Q 2014 was $29.33 Billion
  • Five years later – 4Q 2019 it was $87.55 Billion
  • And two years later – 4Q 2021 it was $137.41Billion

Trust me, there are plenty more examples out there of significant changes taking place in the last five to ten years – and I expect many more in the coming years as well.  The small businesses that will succeed in the future are those prepared to embrace exponential change.

Exponential Change

Last summer I read a fascinating article in Wired by Azeem Azhar called “The Exponential Age Will Transform Economics Forever”.  Just in case you’re not a math and futures-thinking market research nerd like me, I will share some of the key takeaways that I got from the article that are relevant to small business owners.

First – quoting from the article “The most basic cause of the exponential gap is simple: we are bad at maths.” (Note: British author, hence the “maths”).

In other words, we tend to be very linear in our thinking and tend to assume most growth trends are linear.  We don’t realize how fast things are changing until they take off, because we don’t understand the difference between linear growth and exponential growth.

Next – as Amazon’s Chief Technology Officer says in the article, if Amazon “stopped innovating, they would be out of business in 10-15 years.” The future depends on an accelerated rate of growth, and not on relying on models that have worked in the past with just incremental changes.

Finally – predicting when change will be linear and when it will be exponential is very difficult, as they look very similar from the start.

Take a look at the chart below of linear and exponential growth.  At first, they follow pretty similar paths (the red box), but at a certain point, the gap gets significantly wider.

exponential change

So how do we know if our own path in our own small business is on a linear path or an exponential one?

Or how do we predict that a change taking place around us will change exponentially when it has appeared linear for some time?

Even worse, what if we see the change but don’t know how to react to it in time?

We are Bad at Predicting the Future 

As humans, we tend to see change as linear, mechanical, predictable, incremental.  This gives us a sense that we will make slow, steady transitions from the past to the future.  And that we can find clear cause and effect relationships between our actions and the outcomes.

In reality, the world is far more complex than that, and a wide number of variables end up creating a much more dynamic path toward change that we typically anticipate or plan for.

As a result, we tend to not see exponential change until it has whizzed past us.  Consider some of these quotes from a technology blog post:

  • 1903: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”
  • 1936: “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”
  • 1959: “The world potential for copying machines is 5,000 at most.”
  • 1977: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
  • 1995: “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
  • 2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

Now these were predictions by experts in their industry, which tells me that we shouldn’t get too hung up on any predictions of what our future will look like.

We can’t easily comprehend the complex interactions among a variety of conditions that could lead to a potential future.  It’s easier to focus on cause and effect and on linear relationships because we are more comfortable in that world than in the world of multiple regression, exponential growth calculations and biological systems.

Looking for Signs of Change

In reality, we don’t need to be good at math to predict the future.  What we want to know is when a change is going to make that ‘hockey stick’ transition.  And how can we adapt to that change?

According to the Exponential Age article, we are all able to adapt more rapidly to change when forced to, such as during war-time – or, I would add, during a global pandemic.  So we did see more rapid adaptation to technologies that already existed, such as video meetings via Zoom, remote work, and increases in e-commerce and online food orders.

But that still doesn’t help us figure out which new technologies or trends will take off, and which might turn out to be duds.  To put it in 1980s terms, are we investing in the VHS or the Betamax?

While we can’t ever ensure that we are on the right path, small business owners should certainly be paying attention to the world around them for signals of change.  These signals could indicate a shift in the way your business supports its customers or works with its partners or vendors.

What to look for?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Customers – Do they seem restless or concerned about a big change coming, or a need not being met? Be sure to have ongoing conversations to get a sense of these signals.
  2. Competitors – Make sure you are paying attention to any big changes by setting up Google Alerts for your top competitors or the leading competitors in your industry.
  3. Industry – Follow any news shared by industry associations by signing up for newsletters and watching for information on conferences.
  4. News – Set up news alerts or subscribe to a curated newsletter that offers news on the external environment that could affect your business.

Keeping on top of change in your business 

What do you do when you read or hear about a potential signal of change?  Making the connections from a signal of change to a path that could alter your own business model is not easy or direct.

For example, take the 3D printer.  Could that have an impact on your business?  If you own a shop that manufactures spare parts, then perhaps it already is having an impact, or you are already using one to manufacture one-off parts for customers.

But 3D printers are doing much more than making individual plastic parts these days.  You can find news about 3D printed synthetic muscle tissue for humans, 3D printed concrete tiny homes, 3D printed batteries for electric vehicles, and even 3D printed chocolate!

Much larger, more commercial ‘additive manufacturing’ machinery is already available for sale.  This includes sand 3D printing for foundries and companies that are using recycled glass turned into sand that can be 3D printed as concrete for buildings.  There are 3D printers that use stainless steel and other metals for additive manufacturing.  And many companies are seeking out “less wasteful supply chains” by looking to use recycled materials in a 3D printing process.

What might the future look like if the growth of 3D printing becomes exponential?  Will we all have a 3D printer at home to print spare parts, make toys for our kids, or generate a protein-based meat substitute for dinner?

Now think about your own business.  Even if your business isn’t directly connected to the industries listed above, do you have any vendors, suppliers, customers, or partners that are?  How might these changes impact them?  Could that ultimately have an impact on you?

The future is coming with or without you

As you start to go down the path of how a potential exponential change could have an impact on your business, it is vital that you become creative and open to change.  This is where it becomes crucial to set aside time to work ON your business instead of IN your business.  Because you will be at an advantage if you take the time to evaluate these potential shifts.

You can be certain that the Big Tech firms and other large businesses with their team of C-suite professionals and their big budget for consulting help are examining these possible exponential changes.  Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage.

The key is to take time away from your day-to-day operations to be sure you will still have day-to-day operations in the future.

Time to regularly to explore the world of opportunity and potential around you – rather than just expecting incremental change inside your business.  Start by seeking out resources to access the signals of change that could impact your future – curated newsletters, Google Alerts, industry reports, and content aggregators.

Time to have conversations with your peers – your fellow business owners – to brainstorm ways to stay relevant or ideally, forward thinking.  Start by looking for Business Owner Roundtable Groups and other peer accountability groups, or by starting your own futures-focused mastermind group.

Look back at the graph of linear vs exponential change again.  At the start, they look pretty similar.  If you’re not paying attention, the exponential changes will take off without you.  Consider doing some time blocking to help you prioritize some ongoing planning time to be ready for the exponential future that is coming our way. Perhaps that incremental change in your schedule will put you on the path to preparing for the exponential changes coming your way.


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So much change is underway, it can be a challenge to keep up with it all.  How will automation, blockchain, climate change, demographic shifts and other external forces impact your business and your customers?  Join me to keep an eye on these topics and more, to prepare your business for a successful future.  Start by subscribing to my free biweekly blog posts by email so you don’t miss anything!  Or subscribe to my free weekly Five for Friday videos for news on signals of change.