‘The Great Acceleration’ by Robert Colvile

This is an unedited version of a book review which appeared in the January 2017 edition of Market Leader, the strategic marketing journal for business leaders, and is reproduced with their permission. To subscribe, visit www.warc.com/bookstore.

Recently I’ve had a heavy heart when opening the cover of a new business book, as increasing I find that the headline says it all.  There are too many books that should be articles, too many articles that should be tweets, and, as a good friend of mine suggested, too many tweets that should stay as thoughts.

Happily, this book isn’t one of these, and within just a couple of hours of reading the introduction, I was excitedly quoting sections to colleagues over coffee.


There are many books written about new technology, and there are many books written about human nature. But this book manages to be one of the few that successfully combines both. As Colvile himself puts it, its ‘the first book to draw together the threads, and show how quite pervasive and universal its effects have become’.

It had me hooked from the start, bucking the trend by beginning with a story of a Silicon Valley start-up gone wrong, rather than the usual out-of-reach successes. It carried on surprising me, moving away from the obvious acceleration argument safe-ground of technology, and weaving through the heavy-weight topics of politics, money, food, music, film, and friendship. And for a book that gives constant reminders of how short our attention spans now are, it managed to hold mine throughout.

This is partly due to the real-life examples littered throughout, with the section on the pace of today’s news cycle is particularly gripping. Colvile tells the story of the search for the Boston Bomber, showcasing both the good intentions and the bad behaviours of online communities trying to make the news as well as break the news. As in many warps of life now, the desire to be the fastest and the first led to catastrophic mistakes, when a more calm and considered head was required.


Therefore I’d suggest that this book is required reading for managers and marketeers alike, and not just because of its insight into Google’s page ranking algorithms. As Colvile superbly shows, great acceleration affects the way we consume, the way we communicate, the way we work, and the way we wait. And this change doesn’t just affect techno-dazzled Londoners, but mindful laggards too.

All companies want to understand their customers a bit better.  The insights in this book might just help you understand what’s happening to them more than they understand themselves.

I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at johnjsills.com/subscribe to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

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