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Reckoning With Technological and Generational Change

Aug. 7, 2015
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By Daniel Friedman

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The mythologist Joseph Campbell once wrote, “The old skin must be shed before the new one can come.” He meant that to realize your true potential, you can’t be bound to the past — to the way things used to be, the way you think things ought to be.

This holds true for everything. Think about baby boomers running their own businesses and wanting to ensure that their enterprises will continue to be successful once they’re gone. At some point, someone else, someone younger, will be running things. And running them differently.

Consider the locomotive, an innovation that thoroughly revolutionized transportation and wrought sweeping economic, social and political change. You just need to dust off the history books to see how people conducted themselves previously.

And now look at the present. Eighty million people in the U.S. are between the ages of 22 and 40. This group, which includes the so-called millennials, is the largest demographic in the country. These folks grew up with the Internet. Millennials run their lives from their phones — getting a car ride, applying for a job, signing up for college classes, everything!

Everything is instantaneous now (often to people’s dismay). Services like Twitter put your message front and center for millions of people — which can quickly turn into a PR nightmare if used unwisely. Used correctly though, it can be a great marketing tool.

Speaking of necessary change, I had a successful colleague in the other day. He came prepared with company brochures and a printed PowerPoint presentation. Impressive, but outdated. Every business needs someone proficient in Excel, not necessarily in brochures or PowerPoint.

Even something as traditional as the business card is becoming outdated. I’m trying to get my commemorative 20th anniversary business card to perform “La Cucaracha” to keep people interested when I place it on the table. The card itself doesn’t have a Twitter button to press or a link to my blog — but my digital card does. When you have someone with strong digital skills on your team, it will bring you into the new age.

We can see generational divisions everywhere. Both old and young have to see where the other is coming from — but it’s more imperative for the old. “The old get old and the young get stronger,” The Doors sang.

A great example of far-reaching change is how health insurance is no longer entirely dependent upon one’s employer. Is this something that will redefine the next generation of families? For so long, holding onto insurance coverage has been such a major issue for people trying to figure out whether to stay at a job. Now, if a woman’s job is providing insurance and the family decides she will take open-ended maternity leave, they don’t have to lose coverage. A lot of people can be involved in more than one opportunity and not need a full-time job if they have access to insurance outside the workplace.

One of our principles at my firm is that we always look to maximize the opportunities that exist. You need to work with people who are independent, product- and idea-agnostic, and able to make changes based on new information.

Are you working with people who know and care about change? Are you aligning yourself with folks looking to maximize the opportunities that exist? If you are working with someone who doesn’t know or care about looking to new technology and industry developments, then you may be in for a rude awakening. Things may not be so fine so far down the line.

Image via iStock.