“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’.”
Times They Are-a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
What does a twenty-five year perspective do for those of us who have survived for that long? It’s life-changing, inspiring and humbling. We swam so we wouldn’t sink. We had to change with the times or face the possibility of not making it. Sometimes we were driven by fear, but mostly by desire.
As I reflect on the past 25 years as a business owner and entrepreneur, so many things have either radically changed, or conversely, have been immutable. Whether you’ve withstood the test of time, or are still trying to make it to the next milestone, here are some of the biggest changes experienced as well as the secrets of staying power.
(Warning: The following content is for mature audiences only. If you started in business after the year 2000, you may find the information contained below disturbing.)
The BIG SHIFTS
Technology – It’s hard to believe the internet had only been around for a year when we launched. AOL floppy discs were being dropped like manna from heaven. Amazon and Yahoo were founded exactly one year later – 25 years ago this year. We used hard copy maps, then GPS devices until Mapquest came along in 1996 and Google maps helped us find our way about 10 years later.
Instead of relying on phone apps like Headspace or Calm to meditate, we found our peace and stillness in quiet parks or parked in our cars. We left space between appointments because we didn’t feel compelled to book every single moment of our workday. Working on the weekends was a rarity.
Communication – Most of us still used office phones. We couldn’t be technologically dependent quite yet, so we relied on rolodexes vs. our CRM software, landline calls, and yes, snail mail and facsimiles – all from our physical office spaces. Chain of command and hierarchy dictated with whom and how we could communicate.
Organization – One of our biggest decisions was whether to plan our lives and time using a Day Timer or a Franklin Planner. We attended seminars (in-person, not via web) for days so we could learn how to maximize our productivity. If we left our hard copy planners at the office or misplaced them, it could have a devastating effect on our day unless we had memorized where we were supposed to be and what we had committed to do. We didn’t have any other way of knowing where we were supposed to show up.
Specialization vs. Generalization – Because things moved at a much slower pace, companies were able to generalize their breadth of offerings to many sectors. Today, increased competition and accelerated evolution has driven the need for specialization, especially in the professional services sector. Some argue that even micro-specialization is called for in claiming a value proposition that makes it more difficult for competition to claim.
Interpersonal Connection – John Naisbitt was spot on in his 1982 bestselling book Megatrends as he foreshadowed, “The more high tech we become, the more high touch we need to be.” While technology ushered in videoconferencing, instant messaging, and a multitude of other options intended for ease of connectivity, we still crave genuine face to face communication. Technology has made life easier on many levels. In no way does it or will it ever replace true connection.
Doing the Right Thing – If you want to survive the long game, integrity (along with competency, of course) is imperative. If you mess up, you’re still respected if you own up to it. People still want to see authenticity, honesty and those who will do the right thing in any situation. Character is always in vogue.
Hard Work – The popular adage, “work smart so you don’t have to work hard” is nonsense. Yes, we can leverage technology and effective time management techniques. We have more tools than ever to help us work more productively. I don’t care how smart you work, if you’re building a thriving business or plan to, it takes hard work. Period.
Adaptability/Agility – To emphasize this imperative we don’t need to look any further than Circuit City, Kodak or Dell. These were companies with formidable growth records and enviable scale. Circuit City couldn’t adapt and closed completely. Kodak and Dell are still operating, yet not at the same level. They didn’t attend to the newer technologies and shifting customer preferences needed to compete long-term. (Dr. Majed Najrani) Had they adjusted their strategy in alignment with market opportunity, my bet is they would still be strong.
Courage and Grit – It takes a lot of guts to start and continue to sustain a business – especially during times of uncertainty. When you experience a bubble burst in 2000 followed by a market crash in 2008 lasting 6 years, it takes grit, creative positioning and solid cash reserves to ride those turbulent waves. Strategically planning for resilience in the times of “what if…”, are never overestimated.
None of us can be sure what the next 5, 10 or 25 years hold. By controlling what we can control and honoring what doesn’t change – while respectfully submitting and shifting to what does – we can increase our chances of standing the test of time.
“Time is the wisest counselor of all.”