Monday, 20 February 2012

Times They Are a Changing

At the risk of being thought a dinosaur, I must confess that I have witnessed and been involved in huge changes over the few decades that I’ve been alive.  When at school computers were still a rarity – my establishment was fortunate enough actually to own one: it was so large that it sat in a room in solitary splendour and, as a treat, we were allowed to peer in through the doorway at it – a bit like observing a monster from a safe distance. I am sat now writing to you on a small tablet that is easier to use and has greater capabilities than the machine of my childhood (or indeed the equipment that was used on the first lunar landing) and my tablet is small enough for me to carry in my handbag.  Change is one of the unalterable aspects of life.

After studying and working as a lawyer, I moved into The City just after “Big Bang” and became involved in the burgeoning derivatives markets.  I commenced as a junior on a dealing desk and was responsible for recording and ensuring the accurate reconciliation of the day’s trades.  I used to send a nightly telex confirming transactions and market positions; even now I use the Reuters’ codes for months as a form of shorthand when making my own notes.  I can clearly remember the noise that the machines made as they spewed streams of white tape-like paper, not actual ticker tape (the earliest form of digital electronic communications that transmitted stock price information over telegraph lines until the 1970’s) but data transmitted using automatic teleprinter switching systems that enabled local and international subscribers to call each other at any time (even when an office was empty of staff) and to communicate in print.  The onomatopoeia of ticker tape makes me smile - it was so called because of the noise the machines made recording on the ribbons of paper.  It has made a place for itself in history as the bunting of choice to be hurled from Wall Street offices’ windows in New York.  It was first used on October 29 1886, when people wanted to celebrate at the ceremony to dedicate the Statue of Liberty in New York, and it has enlivened many parades since.)

Telexes started becoming obsolete in 2004 when British Telecom ceased offering services to new customers and the business was discontinued in March 2008.  To a certain extent faxes replaced telexes for a while, although few businesses use faxes any more.  We now rely on emails, SMS texts and tweets and the tide is shifting further towards instant messaging (IM).  Each development of technology that is related to communication seems to enable faster, more efficient transactions, but at the expense of giving people time to contemplate a well rounded and grounded response.  Perhaps blogs fill this space… However, in praise of Twitter, it does at least force people to be succinct, which they often fail to be in email, and tweets can be witty or as breath catching as a Haiku.

People need time to acclimatise to change.  There has been considerable research into the subject – originally based on studies into bereavement.  Many of us are familiar with The Change Curve which shows a typical response to change over a period of time.

I have found that, having experienced change on a regular basis since a child, I am increasingly better at coping with it.  Knowing how I am likely to respond helps me get through the various stages faster (or at least to be able to rationalise how I am feeling to myself).  I, like most people, find change easier when I have some say in what is being planned and an understanding of the desired final outcome.  This is worth remembering when we are trying to inspire those around us to change.  It is also true that, for the main part, the young seem more comfortable with change than the older generations.  It is an issue for businesses that need to appeal to a wide range of customers.  My mother won’t even use an ATM, she likes to speak with a cashier, but my sons don’t see the point of setting foot inside a retail bank, when they can do everything they need online, via a hole-in-the-wall machine or by ‘phone.  There is a lot of truth in the lines of Bob Dylan’s song:

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.
Great leaders are those who can sell a vision and inspire people to want to make the effort to change and/or achieve goals.  One of my favourite quotes at the moment is:
“Managers are often so busy cutting through the undergrowth they don’t even realise they are in the wrong jungle.  A leader is a person who climbs to the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation and yells “wrong jungle!”

Keep your ears tuned to recognise the dying out of old ways and make sure you are not encouraging others to hack their way through the wrong jungle.

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