Are You Ready for Change?

When I was at my Military Intelligence Officer’s course in the mid-1980’s, our coursework was almost completely focused on encountering Soviet armored divisions storming into Germany’s Fulda Gap, despite the fact a) that battle had already been thoroughly planned and we weren’t going to add any insights, and b) it was clear at that point that the Cold War was shifting to new venues. Within four years of that time the Berlin Wall had fallen and I was in a war in the Middle East.

Here’s another example of how organizations have been resistant to change: In the hilarious memo below, written in 1935, Col. Hoffman – a member of the Army Air Corps – objects to taking “Equitation” (horsemanship) classes in part because he fails “… to see that horses have any place in the science of aviation”. Unsurprisingly, his request was denied.

It’s not just the military however. We humans are terrible at change.  It frightens us – a fact that deserves some consideration given the fact change is coming faster than ever.

Luddites were people who smashed machinery they saw threatening their jobs.  Now it’s a term used to describe hopelessly backwards-looking people who think they can beat back technology. Nobody wants to be called a Luddite.

When the first railway opened, detractors said that the human body was not meant to travel at 30 miles per hour and could possibly melt at that speed (similar concerns were voiced about super-sonic flight several decades later).

The newly-invented telephone was claimed by some to be an instrument of the devil. Versions of this accusation have been voiced about virtually every other new communication method, except for the fax machine – which may in fact have actually been an instrument of the devil (word of the fax machine’s death has not yet reached the HIPAA-regulated medical community: “no we can’t email your health information directly to your personal, password-protected email address, but we can send images of that same medical info to a fax machine located in a high-traffic area at your place of work”).

It’s easy to be smart about bad ideas of the past. But we humans repeat our mistakes.  Here are some changes that are coming:

  • I once heard this phrase and haven’t seen it significantly disproven yet:  “anything that can be automated, will be automated”. This will impact all of us in some capacity. Its doubtful that any young people today envision a life manning a toll-booth. For an insight into how automation is being introduced in a low-wage manufacturing plant, I highly recommend reading this article.
  • Digital currency ecosystems: the press if overly-focused on Bitcoin since it’s a headline grabber, but the underlying design of digital currencies, blockchain, will re-order everything from airline ticketing to legal contracts. For anyone who has big “Occupy Wall Street” economic opinions, be encouraged that vast swaths of investment bankers and attorneys will be losing their jobs in the future.
  • Globalization: this one is obvious but deserves mention because we’re still in the early stages yet. The people competing and collaborating with you will increasingly be from…a long way away. If you’re enthusiastic about working with people from different cultures, congratulations – you’ll be in good shape.  If you’re nervous, challenge yourself to have some conversations with people around you who are from elsewhere. This globalization genie will never be put back into the bottle, regardless of the politics of the day.

I encourage you – today! – to write down three ways in which your industry will change in the next five years. Talk to your colleagues about them (ask them to do the same, and then compare answers).

Then start moving toward that future. There will always be those around you who insist you learn about horses, but you’ll be preparing to fly.

Good luck!