If you have not started your own company, I can tell you from experience that you will receive volumes of advice. I cannot tell you the number of salty business veterans that came to me with their two cents. Everyone wanted to tell me how they succeeded, and, more often, the mistakes that they wish they could correct. My business is no longer new, and as I look back a little saltier myself, I, too, have some advice; listen to these people. Do not think that because things seem so different now that these men and women do not have valuable answers. In business, we all suffer from a degree of unearned confidence when we think about our place in history. We look back on the way things were done and shake our heads with condescension. How could they not have seen this was the future? The truth is that business evolves in ways that we could never guess but there were people born a hundred years ago that could have been just as successful today as they were then. To that end, I want to talk about what has changed and the immortal constants that will always be a part of good business.
What Has Changed
Clearly, companies have come a long way in the modern age. Few of us rely on a fax machine; all of us carry a computer everywhere we go. The impact of the technological boom in this time cannot be overstated. Something that came along with these advancements is a shifting attitude towards new technologies. I remember people looking at cell phones with incredulity in the early days, and I remember looking at Bitcoin much in the same way. Today, it is harder to be cynical about pie in the sky ideas; we have too many examples of them working.
Beyond technological advances, corporate America is becoming far more diverse. While there is much more work to be done, I am confident that my daughters will have more and more women blazing trails and setting examples for them each year. Another cultural shift is the way that this new generation thinks about the future. I will not pretend to know what is on every Millenial’s mind, but I cannot imagine that they were not affected by the bursting bubbles of their youth. My hope is that this will not diminish their optimism, but give them a mindset of corporate responsibility. I hope they are will still reach out for new heights, but sure their company’s footing first.
It would take a library to fill how far we have come, but remember that the processes and mindsets that rule today may not have a place in the future – and that is often a good thing.
Though I cannot tell you exactly what the best companies will look like in fifty years, I can give you a rough idea of the people you can expect to be in charge. Entrepreneurs today begin from the same point they did a century ago and will a century hence: passion. These are the people who will not abide idleness or following the beat of someone else’s drum. True entrepreneurs not only see a need that demands their attention, they feel a calling to to something that surpasses profits. Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs wanted to change the world. These men did not simply want to make money, they they were set on making a difference in as many people’s lives as possible. No matter what they do or make, the successful entrepreneurs of the future will possess this drive.
Despite our rising dependence on machines, there will always be a human element to contend with in our companies. This is demands that we establish a winning corporate culture and only hire people who can function within it. No matter what advancements may come, there will always have to be a level of faith when hiring your team. You can have the strongest resume in the world, but companies will only hire people who can sell themselves the best. I take comfort in the fact that the human variable will always remain. It will be a thorn in the side of those looking to take shortcuts, and the secret to the success of businesses that take it seriously.
When that salty veteran wants to bend your ear, to tell you about the mistakes they made, remember to listen. When we are born is not up to us. In order to thrive, we must heed the advice of those before us because we will surely make the same mistakes. Do not get distracted by what makes us different than the generations surrounding us, focus on the threads that bind the very best in each era.