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The traditional employment contract of lifelong personal job security in exchange for dependable performance and loyalty is now history. So too is the previous corporate security of sustainable market strength based on a track record of quality and brand-name recognition. The past is no longer prologue to the future. Welcome to the new era of constant, rapid, and unpredictable change!
Computers, telecommunication technologies, and the globalization of the economy have literally transformed our world. We have generated as much new information in the past 30 years as in the previous 5,000. The half-life of knowledge is now just 2 to 3 years. Product life-cycles have shrunk from several years to several months.
It is not just the rate of change that has changed, it is also its very nature. Traditional change was evolutionary with incremental modifications in processes and structures. Current change by contrast is non-linear, more revolutionary than evolutionary. It is characterized by rapid transformations into completely different processes and structures.
Ironically, our traditional notion of valuing expertise as mastery of previous knowledge is rapidly becoming a liability, like horse blinders, resulting in maladaptive tunnel vision. For example, at the turn of the century, the eminent scientists, Lord Kelvin and Simon Newcomb, dismissed the possibility of flight by heavier-than-air-machines because it violated their law of gravity paradigm. Similarly, in 1977, Ken Olsen, the founder and CEO of the once formidable Digital Equipment Corporation, stated, "There is no reason for any individuals to have a computer in their home." More recently, even Microsoft failed to anticipate the explosive popularity of the Internet.
If you want to survive and thrive in this new era of rapid, unpredictable change, then you must develop the competency to break through the conditioning of the familiar by thinking outside the box.
Despite popular belief, creative thinking is not an ability restricted to a few gifted individuals, nor a result of simple capriciousness. It is a learnable competency.
Unfortunately, our tendency is biased to think in terms of the familiar. Consequently, about 90 percent of all new products are actually simple line extensions and fail to substantially increase corporate revenues. This is exemplified by the annual
This article was published in the Summer, 1998 issue of "Today's Engineer" and is copyrighted by its publisher - "IEEE-USA".
Howard Eisenberg (email@example.com) is the President of Syntrek
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