Time to get off the train

In Alvin & Heidi Toffler’s book, Revolutionary Wealth, they discuss the “clash of speeds” of our various societal structures, using a train analogy.

Speeding along at 100 mph is the enlightened business train; adapting and using new technologies (exploiting change).

Still fast at 90 mph is the civil society train; NGO’s, professional groups, activists, religious groups (demanding change).

Keeping up at 60 mph is the family train; working, shopping, trading & selling from home (adapting to change).

A distance back, at 30 mph is the union train, still focused on a mass-production mindset (denying change).

A bit further back at 25 mph is the large government bureaucracy train; slowing everybody else down (fighting change).

Limping along at 10 mph is the education train; protected by monopoly, bureaucracy & unions (blind to change).

Way back is at 5 mph is the international agency train: comprising organizations like WIPO, WTO, IMF (immune to change).

Even slower, at 3 mph is the political system train; discussing, debating but not accomplishing much (too busy to change).

Pulling up the rear at 1 mph is the legal train; so far behind that it hasn’t noticed the beginning of the financial bubble, let alone its collapse (rigor mortis).[can the law keep up with technology?]

tofflers trains

Reflecting on the organizations I have worked in and worked with, I think these speed comparisons make a lot sense. Given that certain businesses can change so much quicker than education, it’s obvious that educational reform will come from without, not within, the system.

When we significantly change how we work, our education systems should follow suit, but due to its design constraints, the Edu-train cannot keep up with the Ent 2.0 train. Perhaps the only option for the passengers is to get off and find another train.

9 Responses to “Time to get off the train”

  1. virginia Yonkers

    I can’t say I really like that metaphor. It assumes that Business is the only fast train with all other support services as behind the times.

    I think a better metaphor would be the “tracks”. Big business has the fastest tracks maintained and built right to their door. As a result, they have the fastest track to progress.

    Small business must try to deal with their track being just a bit out of reach, so they have a fast train to a certain point, but then must be creative in getting the goods (knowledge and technology) to their door.

    The civil society makes sure that there are spurs off the main track. Even if these spurs are a bit slow and in need of some help, at least it gets to a larger number of people. They just need to be patient.

    The government train has the nicest tracks around, although they don’t go to the places that they necessarily need to go. However, this is a very efficient train, so it doesn’t matter if it is going anywhere, as long as it can prove that it went SOMEWHERE. Meanwhile, the train employees would just like someone to plan out the track and END at some point.

    Education keeps having the tracks ripped up and relaid. Sometimes this means that the train will get to where it needs to go, but for those on poorer or more isolated routes, it might just go around in circles. Of course, then the passengers blame it on the conductor and engineer, who are just trying to keep the train on the tracks.

    The international track goes only so far, and then it stops. There is no coordination, and the track owners of one railroad won’t speak with the track owners of the others. When they do, it still takes time to move from one set of tracks to another.

    The political system train can’t decide where to lay the track. It stops at their friends houses, but doesn’t connect to others. As a result there are hundreds of miles of tracks planned, but nothing is actually laid out because no one can agree on a system.

    Finally, the legal train builds up, then takes down tracks. The piece meal track system means that there is no coordination with actual walls between some, but bridges that link others. As fast as the political system is laying out track, the legal system is rearranging it.

  2. Ken Allan

    Kia ora e Harold

    I have a number of issues with this metaphor for preparedness for change (or rate of change?)

    One is the assumption that the same linear scale can be used for measuring progress in a range of clearly different disciplines.

    Another is in the way the it is interpreted. In accepting the metaphor, it could well be argued that when businesses are about to hit the wall, their speed is not an asset. There is no time to reflect on the situation, nor steer clear of inevitable disaster.

    My feeling is that an Occam’s Razor approach to finding a metaphor is poor at best and at worst, smacks of political rhetoric.

    Catchya later

  3. Shannon Bellafiore

    The “education” train is leading the “business” train due to change in the tracks….corporate and federal regulations put on the brakes sometimes…implement change after serious evaluation….look at the schedule first, don’t jump on train or tracks too quick…may take you to the wrong location


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