An article in the June 30 issue of Science News reported, “Worldwide — on land, in the sea and in rivers, streams and lakes — wildlife is responding to rising temperatures.” Sometimes to their peril and sometimes to their benefit, animals are “packing up and moving,” as well as shifting the timing of seasonal events such as breeding, migration and coming out of hibernation to coincide with earlier springs and autumns.
Not all organisms are responding to these new climate cues at the same rate or in the same direction, however. As a result, rising temperatures are altering long-standing relationships between predators and prey, parasites and hosts, herbivores and food plants, flowers and pollinators. According to author Nancy Ross-Flanigan, “Communities are breaking up and reassembling with new mixtures of members, and it’s hard to predict the effects of such mash-ups.”
Consider what’s happening with caribou in West Greenland. They synchronize seasonal migration to their calving grounds with day length. The plants they eat, however, respond to temperature. As spring temperatures in the area have risen by more than 4 degrees Celsius, plants have started growing earlier. Caribou are now arriving after peak foraging time, fewer calves are being born and more calves are dying. And that’s just one example.
Scott Loarie, a postdoctoral researcher who works with global ecologist Chris Field at Stanford, believes that, “overall, species will need to move about two-fifths of a kilometer per year to keep up with changing conditions … 10 to 100 times faster than they’ve ever had to move before to cope with changing climates.” Loarie and his colleagues applied their predictions to nature preserves worldwide and concluded that “traveling temperatures will force wildlife out of all but 8 percent of these reserves within a century.”
How these climate-prompted sojourns and shifts will ultimately shake out remains to be seen. Obviously, as the temperature and the stakes rise, there will be winners and losers, traditional relationships that prevail and others that fail, and even some previously mismatched pairs brought into synchrony. Which ones will fall into each category is uncertain.
According to paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, however, one thing is clear: the species that live in one place today “are probably going to be very different from the species that live there tomorrow.” Assessing and seeking to understand these relocations and rifts, mash-ups and mismatches will be critical to conservation efforts and sustaining ecosystems in the future.
I believe strong parallels can be drawn between these events in the natural world and the uncertainty, volatility and change that continue to characterize conditions in the world of business — and the world of learning.
The heat is rising around the world. Europe’s financial turmoil and its effects on other regions, slower economic growth in China and U.S. political and fiscal uncertainty all add up to a dynamic, unsettling present and an unclear future in which companies must change, move, form new alliances and adapt like never before. To do that, they have to alter more than just corporate strategy or business models.
Learning leaders in particular need to be looking far ahead, assessing and anticipating how to sustain a vital, productive workforce development ecosystem within their organizations. They need to change not only the way they train talent but also the investment and effort they make to continuously breed employees who can quickly navigate the barrage of climactic changes. Survival of the fittest will depend on it.
In some cases, that will mean packing up and moving traditional workforce development to places it has never gone before — literally and figuratively. In others, it might necessitate more proactive and prophetic shifts in timing to determine when learning organizations identify and deliver development opportunities. In still others, it could require generating new synergy between existing development approaches and rapidly emerging and evolving needs.
Regardless of the particular adaptations required, the decisions learning leaders make today will play a pivotal role in making sure their organizations are still around tomorrow — no matter how much global competitive pressures heat up or how high the stakes continue to rise.