“In a world where the pace of change is increasing externally, all the forces that are hitting us, we need to learn how to internally regulate our pace, slow down our pace. This way, we can not only minimize burnout, anxiety, fatigue, and all the rest, but also make better decisions, reduce the number of foolish mistakes we make, and see the full picture and what really matters.”
– April Rinne
About April Rinne
April is a futurist, speaker, microfinance lawyer, investor, and advisor to well-known companies, financial institutions, and nonprofits around the world. She is the author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving In Constant Change,which has been translated into 7 languages with more coming soon. Her work has been featured in major publications worldwide, including Harvard Business Review, Wired, Fast Company and CNBC.
What you will learn
- Embracing relentless change and uncertainty (03:15)
- Understanding mental scripts and navigating change (05:01)
- Complexities of change and the emotional responses it elicits (09:04)
- Optimism amidst uncertainty (12:38)
- Highlighting the need to internally regulate amidst rapid change (15:20)
- The interplay between exponential change and human capacity (17:26)
- Generative AI and shifting perspectives on progress (18:33)
- Harnessing a calendar mind to balance planning and spontaneity (20:59)
- Finding a harmonious balance between structure and creative exploration.(26:59)
- Importance of developing mental muscles for both individualistic and collectivist thinking (29:15)
- Importance of awareness and introspection when facing uncertainty (31:05)
“Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change” by April Rinne
Ross Dawson: April, it’s a true delight to have you on the show.
April Rinne: Thank you, Ross. I’m glad to be here.
Ross: There are many parallels between our work. For example, take the title of your best-selling book, Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change. That’s a pretty strong echo of my work. As I understand it, the core of your work is helping leaders through rapid change and deep uncertainty. How do you do that? How do you work with people to make sense of a world that is very hard to make sense of?
April: Sure, in terms of how I do it, I do a lot of speaking and workshops. But zooming out to the crux, the essence of my work, it is very much in a world of ongoing, relentless change, which is different than one change, this sense of change after change after change, that challenge us a lot of what many people have been taught about how the world works, and our metrics, norms, expectations, and what we do or don’t control and all these types of things. A lot of my work involves helping people, leaders, and organizations see where the world is heading and how we fit into it but unlearning and relearning a lot of these norms, what I call scripts, these mental models, feedback loops in our mind that aren’t helping us very much today but to get to be fit for the future but fit for a future in flux, where we need to be. We can dive into how that happens, what these superpowers are, and so forth. But the crux of it is this notion that so much of what we were taught, and I say ‘we’ collectively, I don’t mean to generalize and don’t wish to speak for anyone else, but on the whole, humans are having a rough time with change and, in particular, uncertainty and the change we don’t control. This idea of how we’ve been taught about how the world works doesn’t align with the world as it is, and certainly not with the future as it’s unfolding.
Ross: You use very a interesting word there: scripts. I’m very familiar with mental models. I’m intrigued by the phrase scripts, what that means and how do we use scripts, or how we can change those scripts?
April: I think of scripts as narratives, the narratives that are running in your mind, conscious or unconscious and many of them are unconscious or subconscious. We all have them. Often, we absorb them without realizing it. These are the things we’re taught about how the world works and what our role is in it. You have a script, I have a script, everyone has a script, and there’s not one that’s better or worse, they’re just different. That’s based on where we’re born, in what family, in what culture, at what time, all these different things. Your script is beautiful, and mine is too. Everyone’s script has taught them some things that are not particularly helpful when it comes to change and uncertainty. I shouldn’t necessarily say unhelpful; we can also think of this as every one of us, we’re trying to react and respond to change, to uncertainty, to unknowns and when change hits, each and every one of us reacts based on the cultural silo within which we live, the scripts, the narratives that we have.
That makes sense, that’s what a human would naturally do. But the challenge is that we’re all operating with very limited information so understanding what is your script? What are some of these narratives? Again, it can be about issues around control, trust, success, prestige, or vulnerability. There are all these different themes that we can dig into in terms of your script. But when change hits, a lot of them get challenged, and we realize that they’re not just equally helpful, they’re not equally valid for the world that we live in today.
Ross: It strikes me that to uncover and hopefully improve our scripts, probably guided self-reflection is at the heart. It’s hard to do this on your own, it requires some relationship or at least some guidance as to how you can see yourself and the change.
April: In the book, Flux in the intro, I go through examples of what these scripts are, and a series of reflective questions around, again, not right or wrong, not good or bad, just take a moment and think about where it is your relationship to change? What are your feelings about change? What I mean by that is, were you taught to fear change or to get excited about it? Was uncertainty an adventure for your curiosity or was it something dangerous? These are very subtle things. You, I, and most people don’t spend a lot of time talking about them. We often haven’t thought about them in that way. You do start with the level setting, and being like, “Where am I right now?” I think of it as a flux baseline.
It very much begins with building your self-awareness, and self-awareness in a nonjudgmental way. That sense of everyone is dealing with different kinds of change and uncertainty. I will not profess to know what you’re struggling with or what another person is struggling with, I will just say I know that there are issues, changes, and factors of uncertainty in your life that you probably wish weren’t there. You could level up here. We start from that point of view, saying, Where are you now? How can we start developing the superpowers, the habits, and the practices that allow you to improve a little bit every day? How do you not react to change and uncertainty, but how you show up for it from the inside out?
Ross: I’d say, I get excited about the change. Is there any downside to that? That sounds pretty crude. Whether you’re afraid or excited about change, that’s just one dimension. It’s a lot richer than that.
Ross: Should we all be getting excited about change, is that where we want to get to?
April: No, and I love that you walked into where I wanted to take the conversation. Thank you for that, which is this word “change.” You’re spot on because I hear from people pretty much every day, someone will say, “Yeah, I’m struggling with changing X, Y, or Z.” I will also hear from people saying, “I love change, I thrive on change. I’m a change junkie, like, Bring it on.” In those cases, I always go, “Hold on a minute.” Because what we’re getting at is our knowledge of the word “change” and how we think about change. It’s one word. We often think about it like it’s one thing, it’s all the same. But the reality is that change is really messy, complicated, confusing, rich, and deep. The easiest way that I can summarize is that on the whole, and again, not to speak for others, but overall, humans love the change that we opt into, a change we have agency or control over, like a new job, a new relationship, a new trip, a new car, a new haircut. Those are all changes, right? We love those because we picked them.
The change what I’m talking about and really at the essence, the heart of Flux, those changes we don’t control. The changes that blindside you, that whipsaw you, that flip your expectations and plans upside down. The ones that change that you’re like, “I just wish that would go away, I wish it had never happened.” That’s the kind of change that frankly, I’m still looking for the human that’s like, “Bring it on, I want more of that.” You do find some people who are much better. They have the mindset that’s much more grooved to even a change that they didn’t want to happen. It happens, and I can make my way through it, I can see the upside, I can see the hidden opportunity, possibility, whatever.
Some people are further along on that spectrum. But on the whole, humans have a really hard time; we resist that kind of change. We wish it hadn’t happened. It creates fear, anxiety, and so forth. Just that simple point of change is much more than one thing. I’m not worried about the changes we pick; those are all upsides. It’s the changes and the uncertainty, and all of the changes that we don’t control have an element of uncertainty. For a lot of people, there’s this not-so-fun spiral downward that we can take ourselves on because we start to catastrophize, we start to second-guess, we start to worry, and so forth.
Ross: I think it’s pretty safe to say that in the 2020s, we have a pretty decent pace of change. It doesn’t seem to be reducing. Some people have been readier for this in terms of their mindset or way of framing things. Where are we today? 2023, we’re a third of the way through the decade, things don’t look like they’re slowing down. As leaders, what are those scripts or mental models or frames? How is that we need to be readying for? I think it’s going to get pretty wild from here.
April: Yes, let me zoom out real quick before we zoom in specifically to the pace of change. But the way I like to phrase this, I’ve been doing this work for nearly 25 years in a bunch of different ways. It’s not like I knew 25 years ago that I would write a book called Flux, that wasn’t it. But if I look back, and say, when did I begin pulling on these strings? What do we do when we don’t know what to do? Why do we behave as we do around uncertainty? Why is it so hard? It goes back quite a long way. I’ve been concerned, you could say, about this increasing pace of change, and how fast everyone felt like they needed to go for quite a long time. Then 2020 arrived, that notion of Flux, it was like, “Oh, right, yes, we could use some help with that.” I do feel like a lot of people have had a bit of a wake-up in the last three years of just how little we control and how much change is underway.
The framing I like to put on it, we’ll keep talking, you know that I’m fundamentally an optimist, not a naïve optimist, but I see a huge opportunity ahead. That said, I do have to frame it as the future looks more like the last three years than what came before it. I don’t mean a pandemic. I don’t mean war. I don’t mean inflation. I don’t mean any particular kind of change. But this sense of constant, relentless, by the time I’ve reacted to one thing, 10 other things have happened. There’s more of that ahead, not less. We’re not that prepared for it individually or collectively. Again, you can look at that as “Oh, no, now what?” or you can say, “Hmm, big opportunity for the people who can wrap their minds, their mindset, their business models, etc., around that new way of being, working, living, and showing up.”
That’s where I come at, like, every day that passes, this is going to be more, not less important that we start to learn. Then when it comes to the pace of change, you’ve probably heard some variation of this before, I’m sure you phrase it, you have your own way of saying this, but I like to say that the pace of change, it’s never been as fast as it is today, and yet, it is likely to never again be this slow. What’s fascinating, I bet you and I could debate all day, is there actually more change today than there was 100 years ago? We don’t know, there was a lot of change back then, there’s always been a lot of change. But what is clear is that the average human is aware of so much more change than ever before.
Our brains aren’t hardwired to be able to absorb and appropriately, responsibly react, and respond to that much change. There, if we think about it, we’re already struggling with the pace of change today, and yet, it’s likely that tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, play this out, as long as you want, that pace is going to quicken, then we have a lot of work to do, and what I call learning how to run slower. It’s a bit of a paradox and counterintuitive but in a world where the pace of change is increasing externally, all the forces that are hitting us, we need to learn how to internally regulate our pace, slow down our pace so that we can not only minimize burnout, anxiety, fatigue, and all the rest but also so that we can make better decisions, minimize the number of foolish mistakes that we make, and see the full picture, and what really matters and so forth. That’s one element of not just the work that I do but my perspective on this.
Ross: Lately, I’ve been observing that it was 1970 when Alvin Toffler published Future Shock. He was very prescient in that. In fact, for 50 years after that, we did pretty well at dealing with the pace of change. However, now, 50-odd years later after his book came out, we are in a state of future shock, where it is difficult and challenging. More people are experiencing what Toffler described in 1970, as in a way, going into a state of shock through the pace of change, which is pretty radical. It’s becoming apparent that there is a bit of a divide between those who are embracing this change and those who are not responding most constructively.
April: Yeah, you and I could probably discuss and debate for quite some time, even the notion of exponential change, for example, singularity, all of that. I’m a San Francisco native so I’ve spent more than my fair share of time around the land of singularity and I say this respectfully, but that sense that, “Oh, we’re just going to keep changing, it’s going to continue to change exponentially, wow.” Then you look at this, and you go, “The human brain cannot process”. A human brain that attempts to process exponential change will collapse both literally and figuratively. We have to be careful and responsible about the limits and the degree to which we want to “hurray! everything’s exponential, it’s going to be 10x what it was last year, and next year, and that’s not how humans were designed, or have been shown to thrive, so this tension between how much we’re pushing technology forward and how much we aren’t prioritizing humanity.
I think that the arrival, or not the arrival, it’s been around for a while, but that sense of the real “Oh, my goodness” moment that we’ve had recently around generative AI is showing that, that sense of, “Great, we’ve got AI that may make 10x or 1,000x more whatever.” And then you’re going, “Wait a minute, is that going to improve my humanity? Is that going to make me better able to connect with other people? Is that going to make me feel less anxious? No. there’s a tension there. I’m very much trying to advocate on the side of humanity but I do think that there is a threshold above which our societal script… Again back to narratives. This is a great example of where, on the whole, the script that society has taught many of us is that when the pace of change quickens, you’re supposed to run faster, and just keep up. Then you play that out, and I play this out as a futurist, I play this out as a human, and I’m like, “Hang on, a lot of people are already running as fast as they think they can today, and they’re exhausted. And you’re saying we’re supposed to just keep running faster and faster and faster. That’s just not a recipe for anyone to thrive”. I’m trying to, again, begin a different kind of conversation, catalyze a different way of seeing and thinking within organizations and, frankly, within the world for life itself.
Ross: I’d love to dig into your thinking and experience in cognition. What are some of the distinctive traits or approaches or ways of thinking that you have that help you in a world of extraordinary change?
April: So, my own tools for cognition, on the one hand, we can look to Flux, and these eight superpowers, and any of those we can dive into. But I was also thinking in the lead-up to this conversation, what are the ways in which my brain works that might be unique or different or not something I take for granted that others might not? One thing that came to mind, I shared this with you just briefly, but for the last 25-plus years, I have arranged information according to dates, not names or faces or visuals, but a calendar. My husband calls this my calendar brain.
This is an interesting way to tee up a couple of different themes that we haven’t surfaced yet. People often ask me, how did I get interested in this world, in Flux and uncertainty. What do you do when you don’t know what to do? My entry into this world, my life flipping upside down, happened when I was 20, I was at university and both of my parents died in a car crash. And I know that’s a difficult topic to just insert into our conversation, to be really clear, I love talking about this. It’s a point of human connection. It was a long time ago. It’s very bittersweet. But I find that my ability to share with others makes it easier for others to be like, “Oh, okay, I’m not so alone.” But when I was 20, my life was total Flux. Everything changed, my family, my sense of self, how I saw the future, my sense of mortality, all of that.
What I’ve learned in the time since is from that day forward, I had a very clear sense of the fragility of life, of the gift of being alive, of the beauty of every moment, the magic of every moment, again, good, bad, or otherwise, just to be alive made me very lucky. My brain subconsciously started etching that ability, that sense of time. It’s interesting. It’s both Kronos, the Greek, the sense of in the moment, time. And also, the concept of Kairos, which is the right time, the opportune time. It’s a more abstract concept. But I had a real clear sense of just how lucky I was to be in this moment in time. Also, I do think I had a bit of a sense that I didn’t have long to live.
My parents had died out of the blue, that was a huge loss, a huge mess with my brain in so many ways. It also led me to believe that I didn’t have long to live either, and anyone I loved was going to be gone soon too. It gave this sense of essentialism, this sense of what really matters. What’s fascinating is, if you give me a date, anytime in the last 25 years, pick a month, pick almost like a week, I can tell you where I was, I can tell you who I was with, and not just me, if we were together, I can tell you what we were doing, and so forth. It’s turned out to be a helpful scaffolding for how I organize information, experience, and all the rest. I’ve learned something that’s helpful to share with others.
Ross: That’s in case the past. You’ve got this calendar of the past, does that calendar extend into the future as in you know dates on which you’ll be doing things over the next months or years?
April: To the extent that they’re on my calendar, yes, I can tell you, like I’ve got a talk booked in months X, Y, Z, or a trip planned, things like that. Sometimes those things, you can’t plan, things get planned last minute, and so forth. I don’t have control over that. What I would say though, again, it’s not like this calendar brain doesn’t have its foibles or its challenges either. If you were to talk to my husband, he would say that sometimes I’m too much of a planner. That sense of, I can etch things. I would look at being a planner has major benefits. You can’t let it get in your way of being flexible and spontaneous and all the rest. I look at this, I think as so many tools for cognition, that sense of it can be used as a strength when you also know what its limits are and when you want to let go of it. For me, I’ve had to learn how to be more spontaneous. I’ve had to learn how to be more… I can be in the moment, but not planning things, just letting things unfold. It has been quite helpful as a futurist. When you’re doing forecasting work, for me to figure out dates is super easy because that’s how my brain thinks, but it does have its limits.
Ross: You are judger on the Myers-Briggs.
April: Moderate, but yes.
Ross: It’s an interesting correlation, judger or perceiver, essentially, is where a judger or somebody that sees time as a line, the perceiver is just in the moment, and they don’t know, oh gosh, I’ve got to supposed to be somewhere. What some other people have characterized as in time and through time, you’re actually in the moment as opposed to having that landscape of time across you. As you suggest, they can be part of the positive, as you can plan and structure, but there’s a potential risk of it taking you away from the moment in which you are.
April: Correct. When I say “moderate,” I guess that’s the right word. But this sense of a very clear sense of time, but the funny thing is about the perception. When I talk about what I do, so much of it is about how we see, and helping people in organizations see differently. I’m constantly experimenting, iterating like that, the idea of perception. I will geek out on just the concept of time, and that sense of stretching, expanding, collapsing it. When I say “moderate,” I’m not rigid about this must happen then. What I like is that I do think of it more as a scaffolding upon which I can hang a bunch of different things. I can hang those things, I can put them up, I can take them down, I can move them around. But I have a structure. But how I put things on that structure, I’ve tried to be, deliberately, quite creative, not too dogmatic… A great example is planning a trip. You have the scaffolding, you want to know when you’re going to arrive and depart, important if you have to be on a plane or something. But within that, create all different kinds of itineraries and allow for just time when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Don’t overbook or over plan. It’s that sort of thing where I’ve tempered my judger a little bit, you could say.
Ross: Of course, Myers-Briggs is based on Carl Jung’s “Psychological Types.” Somebody once said to me that Carl Jung said that the issue is not where we are on these dimensions of the Psychological Types, but our ability to have flexibility along that spectrum. We’ve gone into his work, and I’ve never found the original quote which substantiates it, but I just so believe in that where the thing is that if we can be both judger and perceiver, intuiter, senser we can live along that spectrum and adjust and be what is most relevant for that time, that’s the sanest we can be.
April: I love that you bring this up because it applies broadly to life itself. I was having a conversation earlier today, still related to Flux but a different theme entirely. That was, I spent a lot of time looking at how different cultures around the world look at change and wisdom traditions. The question was, what are the main differences between cultures? One of them that came up, for example, is how we see and respond to change is very heavily influenced by whether we live in an individualistic culture or a collectivist culture. A lot of people think of the West as individualist and the East as collectivist. Now, let’s be clear, there are individualist cultures everywhere in the world and collectivist cultures. You can live in an individualist country but yet live in a collectivist community.
It’s more fluid than we think. What would be lovely is that when it comes to how we navigate change, there are certain kinds of change where one or the other of those approaches is going to work better. We can talk about that. It’s not better or worse, they’re just different. There’s “me” versus “we,” and there’s “Are we trying to react to an emergency?” or “Are we trying to set public policy?” Different changes, but the point that came up, though, is exactly what you’re saying, which is it’s not about, “Oh, we want to be individualist or collectivist, and this is where we’re hanging our hat”, it’s the awareness and sensitivity to the benefits of both approaches and to know in which circumstances is which one likely to yield a better result. But you want to have both of those muscles. I think about it as if you have a left arm and a right arm, you want both arms to be strong. You need to strengthen both of those mental muscles as well.
Ross: How do we nurture that behavioral or cognitive flexibility?
April: The first piece, which we’ve already talked about quite a bit, is just developing a basic awareness of where you are, and where you are in terms of the kinds of changes you have difficulty with, the kinds of uncertainty. Here we can think about this personally, professionally, organizationally, and societally; there are so many layers of uncertainty right now, start with one that’s top of mind. Where are you? What are you struggling with? Then you start to uncover where this anxiety or this fear or this concern, about this anxiety, where does it come from.
It’s fascinating because oftentimes, let’s just say there’s a relationship in your life that you’re concerned about. It could be a working relationship with a colleague, it could be something in your personal life, and you don’t know what to do about it, you need to get out of this relationship or you don’t feel like you’re able to show up fully, whatever the case may be and you start unwinding why is it so difficult? Peeling back those layers. A lot of times, this is just one example, what you get to is a fear of being alone. Interesting, where does that come from? You go back and back, not getting too much into therapy, that’s not what this is designed for, but better self-awareness of what makes you tick, and what trips you up when uncertainty hits.
You start getting into what are these scripts and what are these narratives. Then usually, not to go too far down any particular rabbit hole, but I have designed, in the case of my work, these eight superpowers. Each one of them focuses on a different theme, a macro meta theme around uncertainty. One is pace, the pace of change, which we talked about briefly. Another one is around control. Another one is around trust. Another one is around our comfort or lack of comfort with the unknown, just comfort zones. Another one is around our obsession with living in a hyper-consumer economy and more feelings of self-worth. I share this because when you start to look at what is the change I’m struggling with, what’s the theme that’s at the essence of it? Then I would direct you to one or more of the superpowers to start digging deeper.
Ross: Fantastic! Thank you so much for your insights April. Where can people find out more about your work?
April: Sure. It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much. For all things, Flux, book, superpowers, and all of that, the website is fluxmindset.com and for anything that’s about me, it is aprilrinne.com, I’m the only person with my name as far as I know so I’m pretty easy to find and on those two websites, you should find what you’re looking for. I’d love to hear from anyone interested in learning more.
Ross: Thank you so much April.
April: Pleasure, thanks, Ross.