Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

THE TIMES WE LIVE IN

By occupation I am a management consultant specializing in the area of information systems. This has afforded me the rare opportunity to see quite a bit of the world and meet with all kinds of people in just about every field of endeavor imaginable. I do not get paid to tell people what they want to hear but rather, I make my living telling people the truth which, in this day and age of political correctness and spin, doesn't always ingratiate me to my audience. In a way, I often feel like the child in the Hans Christian Andersen tale who points out the peculiarities of the Emperor's new clothes. Although he naively spoke the truth, the observation made people nervous and squirm, particularly those in power. One of the things I learned early on is that the obvious is not always obvious, or politically correct, but we would make little progress if we didn't look at ourselves in the mirror once and awhile, warts and all.

As a writer, I discuss things we take for granted, often overlook, or refuse to acknowledge as we feel comfortable with the status quo and do not want to make waves. When we look back on our childhood, we fondly think of a simpler time, the "Good old Days," and wish they were still within our grasp. But if anything is constant, it is change. We have all witnessed considerable changes in the world in terms of sociology, economics, technology, politics, etc.

Today, we now expect to communicate instantaneously with just about anyone on the planet. As for me, I miss the days when we could become "out of touch." Now, no place is sacred from instant communications.

Our weaponry has become so sophisticated, it would be the envy of Buck Rogers.

In terms of medicine, we now expect to recover from life threatening problems quickly so we can get back out on the golf course.

We now plan to travel to distant locations in a matter of hours or a few scant days, not weeks or months. Even a trip to space is taken for granted.

We now carry the latest movies and games in our pocket; we look up scores, pay bills, check our stocks, as well as weather and traffic reports.

When you think about it, we now take a lot for granted; things that simply did not exist a few scant decades ago. This means we are now experiencing new freedoms in how we communicate, express ourselves, move about the planet, and socialize. All of this was made possible by advancements in our technology.

This also resulted in new tactics and strategies in how we manage and compete in business and govern ourselves. As an example, consider the concept of "outsourcing" which would not have been possible without the electronic communications we enjoy today. This has caused us to move a lot of our manufacturing jobs offshore to cheaper labor pools, like India, China, even Viet Nam. The result: We are no longer the #1 exporter in the world, and we have shifted from manufacturing and construction to a predominantly service oriented society.

The people who lost their jobs in this country have had to learn new skills for new types of jobs, but are they truly better than their previous jobs?

Let me give you an example, the area just east of Asheville, North Carolina, right along the Blue Ridge Parkway, used to be known for some of the finest furniture makers in the country as well as their rich tobacco crops. Unfortunately, cheap Chinese labor ultimately decimated North Carolina's furniture business; they simply couldn't compete and were forced to close their factories. Since the passage of the Federal Tobacco Quota Buyout in October 2004, North Carolina's tobacco industry has been in a "transition" period, meaning tobacco production has sharply diminished in the area, if not disappeared altogether. All of this has given rise to unemployment, government subsidies, and a general bewilderment by the populace as to what to do next.

There are those still yearning for furniture work, but cannot seem to come to grips with the fact that the ship has sailed. Because of the natural beauty of the area, including mountains, streams, hunting and fishing, and gemstones, some would like to develop the area for tourism. Alas, this is pooh-poohed by the locals who are easily alarmed by outsiders and their perceived sinful ways. Instead, the residents have elected to simply do nothing and allow themselves to stagnate in a state of analysis paralysis. You can readily see the effect it is having on the natives as there is no hustle, no service, no nothing, just a defeatist attitude, all because they refuse to face reality.

All of this means that change comes at a cost, namely substantial modifications to our culture and standard of living. To illustrate, "texting" has had an adverse affect on basic grammar and how business letters and reports are written, which affects sales and customer service.

Make no mistake, our children and grandchildren will live in a much more complicated world than we can imagine. Added complexity means we have to embrace new ideas and abandon older ones. In other words, added complexity means change.

The question remains though, is our quality of life improved; are we truly better off? A U.N. report suggests our standard of living continues to decline (we're now 10th in the world with countries such as Norway, Iceland, Australia, and Canada ahead of us). A reduction in our standard of living represents sacrifices for all of us, both personally and professionally, something that will test the American character.

Our language is cruder, common courtesy is no longer common, there is polarity in our politics, we possess no sense of history, common sense is uncommon, and you could make a compelling argument that our moral values are deteriorating at an alarming rate.

We tolerate a decline in our morality and socialization skills, yet we are intolerant when it comes to politics and religion. Perhaps these should be reversed.

Now more than ever we need true leaders to lead, but we have to quit handcuffing them to political correctness. In a republic, our leaders are elected by the people to serve the people. It seems to me though, we have the cart before the horse. We have created monarchies not only in our government, but in nonprofit volunteer organizations as well. We need leadership, not a power-hungry ideologue. We need leaders who can pull a group of people together and move them in a direction towards solving true problems, not symptoms. A lot of what we do today I refer to as "Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic"; we simply have our priorities wrong. We've got to stop promising people the world, and learn to live within our means. This may not be good for getting elected, but it is a harsh reality we all have to learn.

Years ago, Gerald Ford went before the American people in a State of the Union address and said in effect, "My fellow Americans, I'm afraid the state of the union is not very good..." It was honest, it was truthful, it was forthright; but it also cost him the 1976 Presidential election as it was something the American public didn't want to hear. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and it is us."

As I admonish young people entering the work force, "It is time to grow up." Now is not the time to go with the flow, now is the time to challenge the status quo, to seek new ideas and ways to survive and improve our station in life. As far as I'm concerned, there are no sacred cows. Everything needs to be challenged and reevaluated. When you hear expressions like, "Well, that's the way we've always done it," that's a telltale sign you have allowed yourselves to stagnate out of apathy. Has anyone considered that perhaps you have been doing things wrong so long that you believe it is right? That there may very well be new and improved ways for changing the status quo?

Years ago, Laurence M. Gould, the President Emeritus of Carleton College said in a commencement address, "I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don't think our civilization will die that way. I think it will die when we no longer care. Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that 19 of 21 civilizations have died from within and not from without. There were no bands playing and flags waving when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and the dark when no one was aware."

I would like to leave you on a positive note, but that is going to be difficult to do. The title of this paper is "The Times We Live In" which I believe history will record as an extraordinary period for all of us. I had hoped that as I approached the autumn of my life, I could slow down and take it easy. Unfortunately, I do not see this happening any time soon for any of us. And that's just the point: It is all up to us. We can either sit back and do nothing or stand up and be counted in everything we do, be it politics, our companies, our schools, our neighborhoods, and all of the other institutions we participate in. "It is all up to us."

Think about your own local institutions. Is membership flourishing? Is it prosperous? Is it financially sound? Is it meaningful? How is this not a microcosm of what is happening on a national or world stage? If we truly believe in the institutions we participate in, it will be necessary to redouble our efforts to maintain them.

I am reminded of what Winston Churchill said before his country entered World War II, "Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told."

So, the next time someone says, "The Emperor has no clothes," will we continue to avert our eyes and keep quiet, or will we have the fortitude to speak up and deal with the problem?

This could be our greatest hour, or our worst. "It is all up to us."

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:
http://www.phmainstreet.com/timbryce.htm

Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.