Few will argue the inevitability of change. But there is plenty of debate about the degree to which it might land at our front door and impact our reality.
We proclaim intellectual acceptance with lines like the only constant is change. Or the poignant if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.
But the longer the cornerstones of our personal status quo seem unaffected, the easier it is to believe that our reality is secure, and the disruptive aspects of a changing market will not touch what we do or how we do it in material ways.
Meanwhile the list of cautionary tales is familiar.
Typesetters were confident that software could never replicate the precision necessary to make the printed page a readable work of art.
Eastman Kodak, among other things, refused to accept the idea that digital technology might turn the world of film on its head.
And it is not like we’re talking the shift from horse-and-buggy to the motorcar. The US automobile industry, retail shopping, public transportation, and the entertainment arena are full of recent case studies that speak to the consequences of failing to change — nevermind, innovate.
Yet, until foundation-shaking moments encroach on our space — usually manifest in an undeniable dent in the bottom line — we seem to be able to see shifting sands all around while dismissing the possibility that the cornerstones of our house might be showing cracks.
In the mid-1990’s I was engaged in film and video production. As digital video was gaining footing in the industry, I had multiple conversations with sales and marketing folks connected to Kodak and other major film companies. While there was grudging acknowledgement of the existence of video, the deeply held conviction was that the cold and flat imagery made instantly possible by digital engineering would never replace the quality and rich warmth of processed film.
The brick-and-mortar retail industry watched (and provided plenty of commentary) as an upstart called Netflix began to change the way we accessed entertainment. Case studies point to the mistakes made by Blockbuster, punctuated by shrugging off an acquisition attempt from Netflix. Yet shopping centers, malls and giant retail outlets seem to be caught completely off-guard by the disruption of Amazon.
The blind spots must be human nature. In the past the change was often so slow that we don’t think of it a that disruptive brand of change — like the way we go about many of the tasks we’ll tackle today. A half-dozen years ago most of us would never have thought of using software to hail a ride to the airport.
It is pretty obvious that introducing and accepting change will always come with pain. Perhaps this should serve as an early warning sign if we’re rocking along relatively pain free today. History seems to suggest that it will be easy to ignore the degree to which change will impact us. Probably sooner rather than later.
It will always be easy to dismiss predictions about a future yet to unfold.
There are (probably) cogent arguments as to the limits to how much change will really impact us. There are, after all, things that technology will never be able to accomplish — right? (Say, for example, a self-driving car…) But the market will change. Perhaps it will come with a slight shift here, and an almost unnoticeable dent there. In some corners it will almost certainly come with a bang. And as has always been the case, the future will belong to those who instigate and embrace the ideas of adaptation and movement . . . and construct new cornerstones before the ones on which we rely crumble around us.