Thursday, June 24, 2010


Quote: "Within 5 years, 80 percent of all products or services offered today will either be obsolete or significantly modified from their current form." - Brian Tracy, Victory

What is changeless and what is changing? This is a question which runs me over from time to time, especially brought to the forefront of my mind from quotes like the one above.

I've also read elsewhere that a similar ratio - 70-80% - of everything one learns in college has the same shelf life i.e. with 5 years, it has become obsolete or overridden. For me this was poignantly demonstrated in 1990, when Eastern Europe fell apart and the semester of class I took on Communist Party Structures fell into the waste heap of history.

In the business world with the advent of globalization this has become equally apparent: challenges and new products are coming from everywhere, 24 hours a day. Educated individuals - the "knowledge workers" - have the ability to easily move around, thus porting their knowledge from one location (or country) to another.

In the midst of this seeming cycle of change, adapt, or die how does one figure out what to keep and what to change?

Surely jettisoning everything old simply because it is new is not the answer. As Os Guinness has said, when the church attempts to become culturally relevant, it ties itself to the culture of the time and when the culture changes, the church will only speak to that particular culture, thus dooming itself to a slow and irrelevant death.

In education, the shunning of old ways of teaching for new does not seem to have significantly improved the output of students. Indeed, we are putting out more students which are less prepared than ever for a world where education and preparation is everything.

At the same time, old is not necessarily bad. Certainly in agriculture, local farms and the "organic food" movement have demonstrated that things can be done profitably, without some or all of the benefits of modernization, and still produce a quality product. And not all technology has gone on to significantly improve our lives - or even function correctly.

And this does not even touch on the most important items, the core values which we all hold as individuals - whether consciously or not. As The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun" - every potential for new social movements or new beliefs has been followed in history; we need only study it to learn from it.

So how do we navigate this brave new world, between the Scylla of "Change, Adapt or Die" and the Charybdis of "Change for the sake of change is not always good?"

We have to stop and think.

To simplify, it's exactly likes choosing a new technology. There are four questions to ask:

1) Why am I doing this? Will this result in an improvement, or am I just doing it because I want to look cool/be relevant/have the latest?

2) What am I replacing? Is what I am discarding truly obsolete?

3) What does history or experience tell me about this change? What are the potential or probable effects of this change?

4) Is it right? In my case, does this help me glorify God more or less?

Change is not bad and not in and of itself to be feared. But when we change for the sake of change, when we change for the sake of external appearance, when we change without pondering the impact, we will still change - but for the worse.

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