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Drawing lessons from the (all-too-brief) history of the fax machine

Insanity is popularly defined as doing the same things over again and expecting a different result. When it comes to business, I would argue that if you do what you’ve always done, things will actually get worse. Why? Because the contemporary world is changing so fast that if we do the same things this year that we did last year, we’re going to get left behind.

One of the questions we all face going into a new year is, how will this year be different to the last?
I’d like to take that question and be more proactive with it. Instead of asking how will 2018 be different from 2017, how about asking this question: What new things are you willing to embrace this year in order to grow your business?
We tossed this question around the staff lunch table recently and it generated a wide range of answers—and some great stories. One of my favourites was from a team member who jumped off the wharf at the end of Orewa Beach for the first time, and by doing so confronted one of her major fears. She enjoyed it so much she ended up doing it over and over. Imagine if we confronted new approaches to our business with the same sense of overcoming fears with a sense of fun and adventure.

I think it’s fair to say this is more imperative than ever, particularly with the rapid changes in technology that keep being thrust upon us. The classic story of the fax machine is a great example of how businesses were forced to catch up with new tech, only to be faced with even more changes when that tech became old in rapid time. 

Fax machines were conceptualised around 1870, before being commercialised by Xerox in the 1960s. Back in the day a single page would take no less than seven minutes to transmit. I remember in the early 80s working one night to 11pm to get some documents ready to send to Australia, then driving from Devonport to the central post office in Auckland with my seven pages. Back then, I didn’t even fully understand what faxing was.

‘Can you please facsimile these pages to Australia?’ I said.
‘Certainly, sir.’
They took the pages, as well as the $42 it cost to send them, and faxed them off to Australia. They posted them back to me the following week.

Before you knew it, everyone had a fax machine in the office or at home. Then just as quickly fax machines were gone and we were all using email and digital scanners, followed by smart phones and PDF documents. Imagine being the business owner that believed he could do just as well by sticking with the fax machine while everyone was moving on and keeping pace with the changes happening around them? He wouldn’t have lasted very long at all.

That’s the challenge we face as we look forward to the rest of the year ahead. In what ways do we need to change to keep pace? What things do we need to do differently? What changes are being forced on us by technology, and what changes can we intentionally advance to improve our bottom line?

One of the things I do to keep pace is participate in a think tank called Mindshop, which is comprised of consultants. Throughout the year the group stimulates one another’s thinking via articles and a discussion forum, and three times a year we have a one-day session where we catch up and keep each other fresh. It really works for me, but for you it might be something entirely different. That’s fine, as long as you’re keeping track of the trends and shifts in your industry. 
A good place to start is by asking what success looks like for you. What do you want out of your business this year? Once you know that, you can work backwards to figure out what it is you need to change to get there. 

The good news is, these are questions you don’t need to figure out alone. Pick up the phone and give us a call. Your journey towards business success in 2018 doesn’t need to be a lonely or anxious one. It can be like jumping off a wharf for the first time—scary at first, then exhilarating, followed by a massive sense of accomplishment. 

Let’s explore the changes together.


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