The chap beside me sitting on the plane to Edinburgh has been with his employer for twenty five years; it is clear from talking with him that he has enjoyed a varied career, undertaking numerous roles in different areas across the business; he is currently in Technology Services. He is a dying breed – not of people who work in Technology Services, but of people who remain with a single employer until retirement on leaving education. The pace of change is speeding up and both people and organisations need to adapt to thrive in the new world – for people this will mean acquiring skills and then, when necessary, applying them in a fresh environment.
I’ve been around a bit (so to speak) and I can remember very different, more leisurely times:
· As a child in London a horse drawn rag and bone cart that made weekly collections from our neighborhood – the end of the horse-drawn era.
· When I was a teenager I lived in Hong Kong, but was sent to school in the UK. My flight to and from home took nearly a day and there were three stop-overs to enable the plane to refuel (there wasn’t a non-stop service until 1983). It was usually a glorious, quite lengthy party in the skies. My eldest son will be spending his newly earned cash on a trip to explore Asia for a month before starting at university – his flight will be direct and will take less than twelve hours – only just enough time for a nap.
· The family excitement when my father brought home our first TV (it was black and white with a tiny screen) was immense. Later my youngest sister was fascinated by the test card of a girl with a clown (she wanted to swap me with her, as she was sure that she would be a nicer sibling than me). I can’t remember when I last saw a test card amongst the multitude of channels now available.
· The first computer at my school was so large it filled a room and most pupils were only allowed to gaze at it, in wonder, from outside the door.
· When I worked in a dealing room I summarized the day’s trades by telex. Today trading is automated.
My children would find most of the above bewildering and/or cumbersome.
As the civil rights leader, Ralph Abernathy, said: “The industrial landscape is already littered with remains of once successful companies that could not adapt their strategic vision to altered conditions of competition.”
In some ways the pace of change is being dictated by children and not adults. For fifty years Barbie reigned supreme as the doll for girls and young teenagers to have. Barbie’s popularity started to be overcome by Bratz in 2006 - the reason being that Barbie’s makers failed to spot the change in the market. Barbie originally enabled young girls to have a fantasy mother figure – but by the turn of the Millennium few children were putting their mother on a pedestal. Eight year olds’ ideals had changed, they wanted to be cool teenagers having fun – enter Bratz, their envisaged idol in plastic for play. Barbie sales dropped 13% in 2005 and, as yet, have failed to recover – she has not changed with the times. The influence of the young over older generation can be seen in many ways, witness Mrs. Middleton or Carole Vorderman emulating their daughters’ fashion styles, even down to ensuring matching colours and accessories when out together. Why do a number of us blog – social networking is fun and potentially useful, but is there also an element of not wanting to be out of touch or even of getting old? A well known Financial Services business has been using newly arrived graduates as “reverse mentors” to help senior executives gain a better understanding of the value of technology and social networking in our fast changing world – the wonders of iPads, Facebook and Twitter, IM, LOL, etc… The young are now teaching the old how to adapt. Research shows that as people get older they become more set in their ways and find it harder and more stressful reacclimatizing. Given the pace of change, as demonstrated even in the experiences of my life, the inability or disinclination to learn new things will prove detrimental to individuals as well as organisations going forward.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I can guarantee that it will be fast-paced, variable and also, for those of us who can adapt and embrace what it has to offer, an awful lot of fun…