Better Keep Up With Change

Dec. 21, 2004
Will your company or your products be around in five years?
  • Available knowledge will double in the next three years. Can you read 5,000 words per minute? Better keep up.
  • Once products had market lives of 15 years or more. Now it's three years or less. Got a new product ready? Better keep up.
  • Today, clothes are made out of paper. Bumpers out of plastic. Computers can think. Even talk. What innovative new products are going to obsolete your business? Better keep up.
  • Two men put the first plane in the air. Two million more put men on the moon. Where in the universe do we go next? How will it effect your company? Better keep up.
  • Science, technology, manufacturing, and society have become inextricably interdependent. Society will require a continuous diet of new, ingenious technologies to satisfy its voracious appetites. Better keep up.
  • Our kids are unable -- or unwilling -- to learn. They are flunking out of our schools at an alarming rate. Where will you find the talent your business needs to operate new technologies? Better keep up.
Whether your future in this rapidly changing business environment will be decided by problems or by opportunities depends upon whether your are nearsighted, farsighted, or blindsided. It's time to ask yourself two questions: First, "Does my company have the vision, the imagination, the people, the skills, the will, and the wisdom to survive in a future that is racing down the electronic superhighway? A future without reliable road maps?" And second, "Do I have the necessary verve and nerve to survive in this awesome environment?" One of the reasons you may not be able to cope with the exponential change of the future is the pressure to produce right-now profits to satisfy the hungry investment analysts and boards of directors. Yet, the troubling paradox persists that it has never been more necessary (or more difficult) to keep up with change than it is today. Change is moving faster than we can run, drive, or fly. Even faster than we can think. Amazing breakthroughs are occurring with amazing speed. And, as exciting as these breakthroughs are for some, they are death knells for others. They can kill a company without mercy. And the most vulnerable are those that can't keep up. They also kill products that don't keep up. And machinery and technology that don't keep up. And, of particular importance to you, they kill chief executives who don't keep up. Most CEOs are the acknowledged brains and hearts of their respective companies. But the best CEOs are also the endocrine systems. Their readiness -- or lack of it -- controls the flow of hormones that give organizations their personalities, alertness, awareness, spirit, motivation, satisfaction, and growth. That's what makes their companies unique, vital, and competitive. The adrenal gland, for example, speeds up the heartbeat and prepares the body for quick and effective action. The chief executive also triggers hormones that stimulate corporate preparedness. Whether the stimulation inspires new, competitive ideas or out-of-date failures depends upon the signals he receives from his brain. Knowing what to do requires wisdom. And knowing how to do it requires skill. And knowing how to do it under intense pressure requires guts. How do you stack up? In a recent speech to a group of corporate executives, I concluded with: "In summary, I will make three predictions: First, the truly successful chief executive of tomorrow will have to make a difficult, but necessary, transition from short-term doer to long-range thinker. Second, fewer than half of you in this audience will make any transition at all and only 10 of you will do it successfully. Third, the majority of you will not be CEOs of your current companies five years from today because your companies won't exist. Or because your company's products will be rendered obsolete by new technologies. Or because someone else with the wisdom, the understanding, the skill, and the intestinal fortitude you lack will replace you." Pretty heady stuff? Not really. It's merely change doing its work. Wisdom is knowing what to do. Skill is knowing how to do it. But success is doing it. Some of you don't know what to do. Others don't know what to do with what you know. And some of you lack the courage to do what you must do. To survive in the future, you will need the vision to see what others can't. The courage to risk what others won't. And the intelligence to grasp new concepts while the timid grasp straws. Your success will be determined ultimately by three factors: How much you know, how much you do, and how you behave when you don't know what to do. Better keep up!

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