“You don’t realize how fast the future is coming until you recognize how fast the past has gone.”
John Robben, writer
Talk about exciting and scary. We’re living and working in a time of great change … in fact, the greatest change in all of human history. And there isn’t a place anywhere in the world where I speak that people and their organizations aren’t in great turmoil. Everybody seems to be experiencing some degree of fear, worry, anxiety, and stress.
Of course, we can all relate to that turmoil. After all, millions of people have lost their jobs, homes, and incomes. And to make matters worse … or perhaps better… futurists tell us that 80% of us are working at jobs today that won’t exist 10 years from now. Instead, we’ll be producing products and services that do not presently exist for companies that do not presently exist.
All of that can be quite disconcerting … unless you understand what is driving the change so you can prepare for the change. I see three driving forces.
The three driving forces of change are as follows.
=> 1. Information explosion
It’s mind boggling, to say the least. If you took all the accumulated knowledge in the history of the world and put it into a pile, you’d have an enormous pile. But 3 years later, you could put another pile of the same size next to the first one, and it would consist of all the new knowledge that has accumulated in just those 3 years.
New knowledge breeds new knowledge. One idea leads to another idea and another ten ideas. Knowledge doesn’t just grow; it multiplies.
No one knew that better than the world-famous, Nobel-winning physicist Dr. Albert Einstein. While teaching at Princeton, he was walking back to his office after giving his students their final exam. As he walked along, he was accompanied by his teaching assistant who asked, Dr. Einstein, wasn’t that the same exam you gave last year?”
Einstein said, “Yeah, the same exam.” But his assistant wondered, “How could you give the same exam 2 years in a row?” Einstein answered, “Well, the answers have changed.”
How true. Information explosion brings new knowledge, new answers, and even new words. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the newest words floating around some organizations these days. They include:
*BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed, how a project failed, and who was responsible.
*ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.
*CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.
*PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.
*MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation’s answer to the couch potato.
*STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.
*SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.
*XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one’s workplace.
*PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the heck out of an electronic device to get it to work again.
*OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake, such as hitting “Send” on an e-mail by mistake.
So yes, information explosion is driving change, but most people are woefully unprepared. They’re not keeping up or even trying to keep up with the information that will be critical to their personal and professional success. According to the American Booksellers Association, 80% of American families did not buy or read a single book last year. And 58% of American adults never read another book after they finish high school, including 42% of college grads. Apparently, books are widely distributed and evenly ignored.
It makes no sense to me. If you’re going to survive and thrive in the midst of information explosion, you must make a commitment to knowledge acquisition. Knowledge is the raw material of success. And knowledge … turned into skill … is one of the ways you can cope with change and succeed in change.
Contrary to popular opinion, ignorance is not bliss. As the Haitian proverb states, “Ignorance doesn’t kill you but it makes you sweat a lot.” And lose a lot.
But there’s no need for that. Information is everywhere. Take advantage of it. Read books and educational articles. Listen to motivational recordings. Go to seminars. The top 10% in any field ALWAYS do that, and they do it on a consistent, regular basis. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We are all born ignorant, but you have to work hard to stay that way.”
Another major driving force in our world of change is…
=> 2. Technology
It wasn’t too many years ago people used to brag about being computer illiterate. They would pronounce, somewhat proudly, they didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. And people around them would nod and smile. But now, if you were to say you didn’t know how to turn on a computer, people would no longer nod and smile. They will look at you with pity.
If you’re going to make it in these changing times, you must understand two things about technology. First, it’s coming out faster and faster. According to Gordon Moore’s law, the speed of information processing doubles every 2 years as the cost drops in half. And his law has proven to be right for 45 years.
Of course, these days, the time between conception and production may be a matter of months or weeks instead of years. The pace of new technology is RAPIDLY increasing.
The second thing you must understand about technology is the fact that it is always resisted … at first. As the great engineer Charles Kettering observed, “Everybody is naturally negative to anything outside his own experience.”
Almost every technological advance has some aspects to it that are unintelligible to the ordinary mind. And what people do not understand … they deride out of ignorance or oppose out of fear.
Your only salvation is to keep up with the new technology and adopt those technologies that make sense in your career or your personal life. That’s why my professional group … called Master Speakers International … spends a few hours every year sharing the new technologies we’ve learned and recommend to one another.
Despite the initial resistance that always comes with new technologies, there is some good news. Once you learn to use the new technology, you almost never want to go back to the old way of doing things.
I remember that when I was conducting seminars for the Safeway food stores years ago. As you may remember, grocery employees used to put a price sticker on every item in the store, and the cashier had to manually key in every price for every item at the check-out counter. The process was time consuming and the margin of error was high.
Then the bar code scanning system entered the grocery stores in the mid 1980’s. It allowed the cashier to simply scan the grocery items across an instrument panel that automatically decoded and accurately recorded the prices. At first, the cashiers were skeptical. They were afraid of the new “cash registers.”
But after their initial fear disappeared, the cashiers loved the new technology. There were fewer mistakes, and they could check out many more customers in a given period of time. Today, if the scanners were taken away and if the old cash registers were re-installed, the cashiers would not be happy.
The point is … people forget the fear of change as soon as they realize the benefit of change.
Finally, the third driving force in change is…
=> 3. Competition
It’s everywhere. In fact competition is fiercer today than ever before in human history. Every business has to somehow or other compete with every other business on the face of the Earth.
With the explosion of information and technology, there just aren’t that many ignorant, uninformed customers or prospective customers left anymore. Just about everybody knows what everything costs, or they can find out who sells it cheaper and delivers it faster somewhere else in the world. And just about everybody knows the difference between quality and a lack of quality, and they want quality.
But even those two things … cost and quality … are no longer good enough to stay competitive.
When I surveyed thousands of American managers years ago, I asked them what they thought was the key to success in the future of their business. They all said “quality”. A short time later, while I was teaching in Japan, I asked the same question of Japanese managers. They all said “innovation”. From their point of view, quality was a given; quality was the minimum requirement to even be in business. But it would take innovation to stay in business in such a highly competitive world. I think they were right.
You’ve got to innovate … which means you’ve got to keep on changing things to satisfy your customer … who wants a safer car, a more energy-efficient home, a faster computer, a more colorful cell phone, and a million new other products. The competition is providing those things, so you have to as well.
It’s no longer safe to be a slow lion or a plodding gazelle. As the story goes, every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up and knows he must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. And every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows he has to run faster than the slowest member of the herd to live that day. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.