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November 20, 2013
The more things change, the more they change
By: Mark McDonald

It is easy to think that we live in the most dynamic and turbulent of times. Demands for constant change, disruption, customer and cost pressures make the first digital decade a unique time to be a leader. The inference is that everything that came before was nothing compared to what we have to do in the near future. After all we are living on the cusp of the future, right?

Yes, but everyone regardless of when they lived, was on the frontier of their future. That is something important to keep in mind particularly as we decide how we will all win in a future driven by customers, information and technology. We buck ourselves up for this future when we characterize our challenges as unprecedented, daunting and something no one has ever seen before.

It is true that our challenges are unique and new – almost by definition they have to be. But that does not mean that our predecessors did not face the need to change. That became clear to me when someone recommended I watch a film by AT&T back in 1961 entitled “The challenge of change.”

The film is about the implications of technology and the need to change from a 1960’s perspective. Invest about 15 minutes to watch the video, if only for its “Forbidden Planet” opening style and optics. You may scoff and smile at much of the solutions like the ‘compact telephone console’ that is bigger than a 1980’s boom box, but listen to the words and terms they use and how they describe the future.

AT&T made this film before I was born, and that is saying something. The technologies in the film are old, but the narration applies today, almost 50 years later. Sure it is all mobile, based on the Internet, with more color, diversity and better interfaces, but the demand for change remains largely the same.

Things do not stay the same. The more t hings change, the more they change.Change technologically, operationally, organizationally, socially etc. That change is the result of a consistency in context calling for innovation, efficiency, collaboration and engagement. This video illustrates that we live in new world, but so did our parents and grandparents.

I would not trade today for the past. Nostalgia is not the purpose of this post. Rather I am suggesting that we need to occasionally step back, reflect and recognize our realities and challenges in the context of the past. The form factors are definitely different, but change is more constant than we realize. Leaders must think beyond individual technologies of the day to the fundamentals that drive different outcomes for customers and the company. The pace, opportunity and competition created by digital innovation demands it.

We stand on the shoulders and solutions of those who came before us. Their future is our past and context for today. A few things strike me watching that 52 year old film about the their future and ours: information, technology, people, and change. And the greatest among these is change.

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