My first job in the professional world began with a role that involved ordering parts from local suppliers. Armed with a telephone and phone directory, my task was to call companies to negotiate favorable terms. For more intricate and involved projects, vendors were directed to submit formal proposals, using the “high tech” fax machine. Those who were behind the times and without faxing capability, would simply deliver their proposals in person. They’d walk into the company’s lobby with tangible paperwork and shake someone’s hand. I remember one vendor who, with each submission, included a sack of chili dogs (a Detroit delicacy) he had “ordered by mistake.”
Fast forward to today, where the need for a telephone or fax machine has become obsolete. Technology has forced organizations to either rethink their business practices or completely eliminate the antiquated and outdated. What were once insurmountable challenges have seamlessly transformed into everyday business operations.
Consider the complexity of orchestrating a meeting in the past and the myriad of tasks involved: agreeing on time, location, and duration, arranging equipment, scheduling breaks and communicating changes to secretaries. Now, contrast this with my recent experience facilitating a meeting across three time zones from the comfort of my home office. Language barriers were effortlessly overcome with translation modules, and the entire meeting could be recorded and stored in the cloud indefinitely. Virtual meetings have not only streamlined processes but have also made note taking redundant, with the ability to transcribe verbal conversations into recorded text.
Peter Drucker famously quipped “innovate or die,” and I agree with him. Blockbuster once dominated how consumers watched movies. In 2000, Netflix tried to sell their business to the DVD rental giant. Quoted as saying the “dot-com hysteria is completely overblown,” then blockbuster CEO John Antioco rejected the $50 million deal. Today, Netflix has a market capitalization near $200 Billion. As technology drives business decisions, it was only in 2017 when Netflix stopped offering to mail rental DVDs to customers.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, instructs us “skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” So, the question is this. If we can retire faxes for emails, yellow pages for web pages, and in-person meetings for virtual; what’s next? These days I don’t even need an office to do my job. As long as I have an internet connection and something with a screen, I can perform my job from anywhere in the world. I don’t need any of the fancy hardware of days past like a Xerox, Mimeograph machine, or typewriter. The coffee pot, however, has to stay.