In 1994, Boeing launched the first of its 777 series through the airline Cathay Pacific. It was a big day and the new aeroplane was a spectacular technological feat.
It was the world’s largest twin-engine jet and one of the first to make use of fully digital fly-by-wire controls. It was celebrated when it made its entry into the aviation world just as its now retired predecessors like the Boeing 747 were celebrated.
In May this year, this same aeroplane was celebrated for something else. It was retired. It made its last flight to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona. It was joining over 150 other aircraft that have been retired and that make the museum a spectacular destination for aviation lovers.
The big lesson is that a time comes when the very things we once celebrated have to be retired. The difference between organisations that will last and those that will fizzle out into oblivion lies in knowing when it is time to retire a concept, an idea or even a person.
Every relic was once a celebrated innovation. When it is time to retire an idea and we fail to do so, it becomes a threat. It struggles to match up with the technology of the day and becomes a potential risk as it is overtaken by time.
And, it is not just technology that overtakes ideas. Even the appetite of the people goes through a transformation. What people celebrated a few years ago may be a big turn off for them today.
However, because of the nature of human beings and the tendency to relish in success and do everything to consolidate it, many are blind to the fact that they are no more who they used to be. Many are still touting themselves as leaders in their industry, not realising that events have overtaken them.
This blindness of success is rampant today and is the singular most common reason why successful companies lose their place to disruptors.
There was a time when many buildings in commercial districts had secretarial institutes and later computer colleges that taught people how to use computers. Many paid for this service as organisations that were hiring would specify that the interested job seekers had to be computer literate.
Now, while that was once the standard, today it is a given. Just think of the number of children today who do by default, the very things we once paid to learn.
Old thinking versus New thinking
A friend came visiting with her three-year-old daughter. The little girl picked up my iPad and knew exactly what to do to get it working. Now the stage is being set for a very interesting confrontation — the faceoff between old thinking and new thinking.
Old thinking says this is the way it has always been. New thinking says that while we appreciate the way it has been, this is the way it should be.
Old thinking says this is how we have always done it. New thinking says that is the very reason we should change the way we do it.
Old thinking says we have to uphold the traditions of the past. New thinking says we need to create new traditions for the future.
Old thinking says if it’s not broken do not fix it. New thinking says if it is not broken, break it yourself or a disruptive competitor will.
Old thinking says after all we are still making money. New thinking says that you completely missed the plot. You are looking at the small picture of the money you are making today while we are looking at the big picture of the hearts we are capturing today. Those hearts and minds will translate into money that will dwarf all you think you have made.
Old thinking says that the customer is always right. New thinking says sure, but which customer? The customer that got you to where you are is not the one who will sustain you where you are going. Never serve the old at the expense of the new. Create the balance between the emotional and the strategic.
The old says that these employees are the very ones that made us what we are. New thinking says we appreciate and honour that but even the 777 was celebrated once.
When a person’s thinking is frozen in the cocoon of the good old days, they will never advance to the better new days. In fact many times, the very people that built a great company can be the ones to bring it down when they refuse to get out of the way and make room for new thinking.
Every organisation has a choice to make today that will define and determine the future. Do you want to be the champion of the past or do you want to be a timeless champion?
Every model has an expiry date. You have to keep changing to remain relevant. Relevance always triumphs over tradition. Yesterday’s innovation is today’s relic. Are you creating breakthroughs or preserving relics?
The disruption that is coming your way is merciless and only a disruption from within can save you and guarantee you a place in the future. You will either be remembered as a warning or as an inspiration. The choice is yours.
Dr Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. E-mail: [email protected] ; Twitter: @waleakinyemi