The uncomfortable feeling of being alive

How to prepare for new technologies

I’ve been experimenting with video versions of this newsletter, so if you’d like to hear me read this week’s edition, you can find it here on YouTube.

“Thirty years ago, Mr. President!,” John D. Hawkins exclaimed. “What changes have come over the face of the world in thirty years!”

Standing before the president, he continued, “In all that elevates man in the improvements of advancing civilization, the last thirty years present greater results than three hundred years preceding.”

One tends to hear statements like that a lot.

Technology has advanced more in the past few years than in the centuries before, people say. The world is moving faster than ever. We can’t keep up.

But they’ve been saying that for a long time.

In fact, the statement above was made in 1847, to James K. Polk, about steam power.

But luckily for those overwhelmed by technology, half a century later Lord Kelvin proudly stated—before the discoveries of Einstein, Heisenberg, Hawking, or the invention of the computer—that “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics.”

“All that remains,” he reportedly said, “is more and more precise measurement.”

Unfortunately for his prediction, the next century turned out to contain far more new physics, technology, and pace than anyone was able to imagine.

But almost a hundred years later, a Newsweek writer, tired of the fuss over new technology, assured us it was all just a fad.

“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms,” the piece began.

“Baloney,” he wrote. “Do our computer pundits lack all common sense?”

One assumes these last few years came as some surprise to the writer.

And that’s because technology never stays the same for very long. That which blows our minds today will seem quaint and obvious tomorrow. And there’s always more coming.

Even today. We’re not living in the future, we’re living in someone else’s past. Change is on its way, whether we’re ready for it or not.

That doesn’t mean we have to ignore the individual and global horrors of some new technologies. We can and should minimize their negative effects on our life, and we should be careful with how we use them.

But new remains inevitable.

Which makes us yearn for some clear prediction about what’s happening next. Some guarantee of what we can expect.

But as Clayton Christensen wrote, “Amid all the uncertainty surrounding disruptive technologies, managers can always count on one anchor: Experts’ forecasts will always be wrong.”

Nobody can predict the next technology cycle.

We can pay attention to what’s happening and prepare—and attempt to bring our desired future into reality—but we can never accurately predict where things will end up. Or what will, eventually, change everything.

Maybe it’s crypto. Maybe it’s AR. Maybe it’s autonomous vehicles or micromobility. It’s probably something else entirely.

But any of those, and countless others, could change how most businesses are run. How customers make decisions and how they spend their money.

And all we can do is take notice, learn as much as we can about as much as we can, and stay flexible. Ready to seize new technologies that benefit our clients, and ready to leave behind ways of doing things that no longer let us do our best work.

As Shane Parrish said, we need to “position for multiple futures.”

We don’t need to invest in every new technology or app, or buy this year’s new phone just because it’s new. We just need to pay attention to new ways of working, providing our services, and selling our products.

And we need to stay informed on new technologies in our industry and in our world, so we can anticipate what our customers and clients will come to expect and provide it to them before we’re dragged into it or before they’ve moved on.

We may worry that staying flexible and staying informed will slow us down in the short-term. But as Parrish said, when we do things right, “in the short-run, we’re always looking like we’re behind.”

“But in the long-run, we always win.”

We win because we don’t let new technologies or ways of working take us by surprise. We don’t buy into every trend, but we change when change is necessary, and improve when improvement is needed.

But most importantly, we win because we try new things. Because the next new thing we try might just be what changes everything.

“Try something new. It’s unpredictable, so it’s uncomfortable. Then it becomes predictable, so it’s comfortable,” Dave Trott wrote.

“Try something new. It’s unpredictable, so it’s uncomfortable. Then it becomes predictable, so it’s comfortable,” he repeats.

And on and on, he continues.

“Somehow,” he says, “we never quite spot the pattern.”

“It never clicks that feeling uncomfortable means it’s a new experience. And new experience means growth. Going somewhere we haven’t been before. Trying something we haven’t tried.”

“That uncomfortable feeling is being alive.”