You can ride it to success or it will wash you away
It is interesting that we live in a world that changes yet humans generally dislike change. We live at a time where change has made life significantly easier for us, but we are nostalgic for the good old days. We take things for granted that our grandparents dreamed about and dream about things that they couldn’t comprehend.
Before you think I’ve gone too far, let me clarify that I’m talking about techniques, tools and tastes and not principles. Thomas Jefferson said it best, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, and swim with the current.”
Since we know that change is constant, why do we resist it so? We can be our own worst enemy when we stand in the door of an inevitable change and try to stop it. We can think we forestalled the discomfort of the change and maintained the comfort of our current situation, but others can see our actions for what they are.
I made a sales presentation of a product that changed technology from paper information delivery to an electronic system years ago to a woman business owner and a middle aged male manager. The owner seemed receptive to the concept that would significantly improve her business and just as interested to see how her department head would react to a dramatic change in processes.
His reply to the presentation, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, did not surprise me. He demonstrated no interest in changing his routine regardless of the benefit. I responded, “I thought that the only dog that couldn’t learn a new trick was a dead dog”! My sudden quip earned an affirming smile from the owner, but his reaction was markedly cooler.
Sometimes change is gradual and we have more time to adapt, and sometimes it can be sudden. Two examples of sudden change illustrate how we benefit in spite of our reluctance, and that examples can be cited throughout history and not just in the recent past.
When I was in college, computers were rare. Upon graduation, I obtained a list of all of the computer installations in Austin from the chamber of commerce, which fit on the front and half of the back of a legal sheet of paper. Only two installations were not government related. No one dreamed of a personal computer.
The best tool that an individual had for complicated mathematical calculations was a slide rule. When the personal calculator was introduced in the mid-1970’s, the death knell for widespread slide rule use was sounded. Once multi-function units appeared, slide rules were relegated to closets.
Growing up, I viewed an abacus as an ancient math tool. Today, people view the slide rule in the same way. To illustrate change, I’ll ask people in my presentations if there is anyone under 40 who knows what the slide rule that I display is? No one ever does and many look at it as if it were deposited on earth by an alien or as ancient as the abacus.
A simple example of rapid change that happened in the past occurred in the delivery of the mail. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, mail delivery from the east coast of the United States to the west coast took weeks.
The idea to speed delivery using a relay of horseback riders between St. Jo, Missouri to Sacramento, California reduced the time to a matter of just over a week. The service was an instant success. People rejoiced at the ability to receive information faster than previously.
And then, just as people got used to the idea of the Pony Express, it was gone. Eighteen months after it stormed onto the scene, it was replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, which delivered information even faster, cheaper and with less risk of loss of life.
The Pony Express company, riders, employees and customers had to rapidly adapt to begin new businesses, careers and use the “latest and greatest” mail delivery system. Those who did thrived; those who didn’t were left behind.
In order to succeed in life, we have to continually learn, anticipate change, recognize it at the earliest possible moment, and adapt in order to ride it like the wave in the surf. Failure to do so leaves us vulnerable to being left behind like those didn’t want the Pony Express to die.
© 2007 Richard V. Battle